Dougherty County School Board Member Darrell Ealum gestures while discussing a $250,000 overpayment to Alternatives Unlimited at Thursday’s board meeting.
ALBANY, Ga. — Dougherty County School Board members learned Wednesday that the School System has overpaid the private administrative firm for its Drop Back In Academy by $250,000 after incorrectly labeling students in the program.
Ken Dyer, chief financial officer for Dougherty schools, told board members that he questioned the invoice from Alternatives Unlimited, the program administrator, and initially refused payment.
Dyer informed board members that he was told
by then Supt. Joshua Murfree to “honor the invoice,” which he did, citing a provision he says existed in the contract that allowed for the superintendent to resolve any invoice disputes with the company — a provision board attorney Tommy Coleman and two board members contend does not exist.
The Drop Back In Academy is designed to reach students ages 16-21 who are high school dropouts and works to help them earn credits they need to graduate from high school. The program is free to the student and is paid for by taking 90 percent of the state FTE (full-time enrollment) funding of about $3,500 per student. The school district receives the remaining 10 percent of the FTE funding.
According to Dyer, Murfree and principals from around the district made the conscious decision to categorize the students who were attending the school as traditional students, which changed the level of FTE funding provided by the state. Georgia pays a different FTE rate for alternative students than regular students — $4,500 to $3,500 respectively.
This was done because Murfree thought categorizing the students as alternative students would hurt the four Dougherty County high schools, Dyer said.
"When they sent the invoice, it was for 90 percent of the alternative rate, which we weren't receiving from the state," Dyer told the board. "We were receiving the regular rate."
Board members appeared stunned when Dyer explained the situation during Wednesday's meeting.
"We specifically worded the language in their contract to avoid this kind of thing," Board Member Darrell Ealum said. "I knew this was going to happen," pointing to a provision in the contract that specifically limits the amount the district can pay Alternatives Unlimited to 90 percent of the funds allotted by the state for the students in the program.
Board Member James Bush asked Dyer who authorized payment after he had initially refused payment.
"It was my supervisor," Dyer responded.
"You mean Mr. (Robert) Lloyd (former financial director)?" Bush asked.
"No, Dr. Murfree," Dyer said.
The revelation prompted Board Chair Carol Tharin to question the need to conduct any further business with the group.
"Seems to me that we need to do away with them," Tharin said, to which Interim Superintendent Butch Mosely said that proposal would be researched to see if it could be done in house by the school system.
The School Board is expected to discuss the program and its future at its June 10 board meeting.
Mosely said that he would consider pursuing some level of legal action against Alternatives Unlimited in hopes of getting the money back.