ALBANY, Ga. — Georgia Department of Education Title Programs Director Margo DeLaune said Friday a decision to delay disbursement of more than $11 million in federal funds to the Dougherty County School System was prompted by incomplete or inapplicable documentation supplied by system officials.
Late last month, the GADOE requested supporting documentation in regard to 34 questionable Title I-related expenditures for more than $142,000 and gave the system until July 13 to comply.
The system responded to the request by the deadline, but the information provided wasn’t sufficient to prevent the department from freezing funding.
“We are still going through the documentation, and it is taking us some time to review,” DeLaune said. “But some of the information we have received doesn’t apply to the documentation we requested.
“We made the decision yesterday (Thursday) to delay the funding until we received the proper documentation we’ve requested.”
On Thursday, the state Board of Education approved federal funding for the Dougherty County School System, but the DOE stepped in, deciding to delay the money until the system clears up issues with FRM (Free or Reduced Meal) numbers and questionable Title I expenditures.
The state allocates Title I funding based on FRM-eligible students. The numbers are used as an indicator of poverty, and the DOE has said it has reason to “doubt the accuracy” of the system’s FY 2012 numbers.
In FY 2012, the DCSS reported that 82.2 percent of its more than 16,000 students qualified for free or reduced meals.
DeLaune said the state is looking at all federal programs in Dougherty County, including School Improvement Grants, Race To The Top, 21st Century Grants and Title I, Part A monies, among others
“To be honest, I have no clue how many (federal grants) we are looking at because there are so many federal programs involved,” DeLaune said.
The probe was spurred by the April indictments of Dougherty County School Board member Velvet Riggins and Morningside Elementary School Principal Gloria Baker on felony charges of filing fraudulent free or reduced lunch applications.
Riggins was removed from office last week by Gov. Nathan Deal and will go to trial before Superior Court Judge Stephen Goss on Sept. 17. Baker has a motion hearing before Superior Court Judge Willie Lockett on Aug. 31.
DeLaune did not know how long the delay would remain in effect but said the length of the freeze would depend on how quickly the system responds with the applicable documentation requested by the state.
A call Friday to request comment from school system Finance Director Kenneth Dyer was not returned.