ALBANY, Ga. -- After six weeks of keeping a low profile, Dougherty County School Board at-large candidate Lane Price emerged at a news conference Friday at the Dougherty County School System administration building — and she came out swinging.
"I'd like to speak today on significant violations of local, state and federal regulations pertaining to the Free and Reduced Meals program and to the expenditures of Title I money," Price said. "For those who may not know, these two federally-funded programs are designed to help our children. Some people have tried to make this a racial problem, but the only thing racial about it is that more than 80 percent of our school children are African-American."
Late last month, the Georgia Department of Education sent a letter to DCSS Superintendent Joshua Murfree demanding repayment or reclassification of $134,626 in Title I expenditures. The DOE also is requiring the district to hire two monitors of the department's choice to oversee Title I funds and FRM applications.
"My questions are manifold," said Price. "First of all, why did the school system administrators of these two programs mishandle them? The rules are clear. The excuse 'Well, that's the way it's been handled for a long time,' won't hold water — especially to state and federal reviewers. These are flagrant violations."
Price then took aim at DCSS administrators.
"Now the federal government, through the DOE, is requiring our system to hire two people of their choosing to oversee the FRM and Title I programs," said Price. "So, we're going to have to pay two more folks to be sure that the administrators who are already on our payroll do what they are supposed to do."
At stake is more than $11 million in funding which has been frozen until the state is satisfied with the system's answers. The DOE has given the DCSS until Sept. 28 to respond.
"That money is meant to pay for the 2012-13 school year," said Price. "Something is broken. Badly broken, and it needs to be fixed now. The rules are there. The rules are clear. The rules are there for a purpose."
Price also expressed concern that some of the same people who helped cause the state intervention remain with the system.
"As a taxpayer, it is of great concern to me that the person who submitted all of these Title I expenditures is still managing Title I funds," said Price. "We have learned that the improper actions of the Title I director (Betty Graper), as well as the administrators of FRMs, have gotten us into this mess. Big money is frozen, and we are going to have state folks in here, at our expense, to oversee our employees.
"This is unacceptable."
Price then urged citizens to attend the next School Board meeting at 6 p.m. Monday.
"If you care about this issue, join me at the School Board meeting. This will be the first since the letter from the state was received," Price said. "We have a huge problem. I, for one, want some answers, and I want to see the current School Board address and act on this problem."