ATLANTA — In a meeting with the state Board of Education Monday, Dougherty County School Board members learned that Georgia education officials want the federal government to intervene in the system’s Title 1 programs.
The suggestion came after a scolding from the state board on how the school system has managed $6 million in Title 1 funds.
The Georgia Board of Education’s Audit Committee held a called meeting with a majority of the Dougherty County School Board on Monday to express its concerns over the district’s management of federal program funds. The DOE has been heavily involved with the system since sending a complaint investigation team to Albany in May, and just last month placed the District at “high risk” status.
“This is being taken as a very serious matter by us, and we hope it is taken seriously by you,” Audit Committee Chairman Larry Winter told the DCSS board members. “There is no doubt that this is an unusual meeting. We are concerned that our communications seem not to have been reaching the school board. It is for that reason we are having this face-to-face meeting today.”
All current DSCC board members made the trip except Milton Griffin and Anita Williams-Brown. In addition, new board members-elect Lane Price and Robert Youngblood were in attendance, as was system Supertintendent Joshua Murfree, system Attorney Tommy Coleman and Executive Finance Director Kenneth Dyer.
“This was an honest, frank dialogue; we aren’t trying to punish this board,” Winter said after the meeting. “We meant to send a message, and I think we did that. We want to empower them and not let them become victims.”
Outgoing DCSS board member David Maschke said state officials had given the Dougherty board the direction it needs to deal with the issues that its members face.
“I hate to leave the board at this time with this work coming up,” Maschke said. “I’m guardedly optimistic that enough has occurred that the board of education now understands the seriousness of this problem. All of them are going to have to work together to right this ship.”
DCSS Board Chairman James Bush said the appearance of State School Superintendent John Barge at Monday’s meeting underscored its signifiance.
“This was a very informative meeting,” Bush said. “The superintendent (Barge) was concerned that we weren’t being informed properly. Overall, I thought it was a good meeting, and I’m convinced the people up here really want to see us succeed.”
Lack of internal controls, delays in implementing corrective action plans and failure to follow local board policies have led the state to put a hold on as much as $15 million in federal funding. The state DOE sent a letter to the U.S. Inspector General’s office Nov. 30 requesting help regarding the DCSS.
“I thought the meeting was direct, serious and there was no unexpected news except for the IG letter,” Winter said. “Everything else they were aware of, or should have been.”
Winter’s comments came with a warning, though.
“This is the gift that keeps on giving,” he said. “You will probably be under scrutiny for the next five years. You are going to grow accustomed to seeing auditors.”