Macon attorney James Fleissner presented the Dougherty County School Board on Monday with two possible options in pursuing fraud in its free or reduced school lunch program.
ALBANY, Ga. -- Macon attorney and Mercer Law School professor James Fleissner presented the Dougherty County Board of Education with two options for delving deeper into possible school lunch fraud within the 16,000-student school system.
Fleissner pointed out that U.S. Department of Agriculture rules are quite specific when verifying the accuracy of applicants' salaries -- limiting the system to just 3 percent of applications that are not direct-certified, or pre-approved, by data already on record.
"This is basically an honor system, with not much of an audit system in place," Fleissner said. "Existing statutes and regulations dictate the scope of the efforts to randomly verify eligibility, limiting the sample to 3 percent of approved applications. My conclusion is that, absent a change in federal law, the DCSS is bound to follow the federally-imposed auditing system."
During this school year, there were 2,658 applications that were not direct-approved. The applications, however, most likely contained the names of multiple children in one family, which would push the number higher.
Fleissner told the board that the USDA, realizing that local boards might want more control of the applications, last week issued new guidance that will allow school systems to use employee salary information to identify questionable applications from school employees.
"In appropriate cases, those identified for verification to show cause may be referred to law enforcement authorities for investigation and possible prosecution," Fleissner said.
Fleissner's presentation brought sharp reactions from School Board members Darrel Ealum and Anita Williams-Brown.
"This is crazy," Ealum said. "You are telling us that if a crime is being committed, we have to stop at just 3 percent? That's crazy."
Williams-Brown had a differing opinion.
"We paid $10,000 to possibly get just a little bit of money back?" she asked. "I'll say this, if we are feeding hungry children I couldn't care less about the money."
Fleissner said the decision on where to go from here is now up to the school board.
"We looked into options, and what we found is the law of the land," he said.
BOE Chairman James Bush said it was the board's responsibility to pursue those options.
"We needed someone from the outside to come in here and take a close look at our options," Bush said. "As a board, we are duty-bound to make sure all procedures are properly followed."
The crisis arose late last year when Morningside Elementary Principal Gloria Baker and her husband, John, were each charged with three misdemeanor counts of allegedly submitting false or misleading information on free or reduced school lunch applications.
Weeks later, School Board member Velvet Riggins was also charged with two similar misdemeanor counts in addition to a felony count of offense by a public official.
Those cases have yet to be resolved.