A new audit of Bertie County Schools reveals a system deficit of more than $700,000, mismanagement of school funding, and potential violations of state laws that go back to at least 2011.
According to Alexis Schauss, director of school business for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, the depth of the financial problems came to light when the Bertie County School board hired a new auditor.
"Bertie County has experienced a financial decline in the last three years," Schauss told the State Board of Education at its May meeting. But she said the 2016 audit by the district's new auditor revealed the system was "in a worse financial situation than it was previously disclosed."
Schauss said the deficit was mostly the result of past administrators hiring more school staff, despite declining enrollment as the area lost residents. The district's new superintendent Steven Hill, said in an interview that he and the Bertie County school board are trying to correct the situation. The board recently voted to lay off 28 employees.
"They allowed too many people working, when you have a county that's losing population," said Hill, who was brought in as superintendent in December. "You just can't think with your heart. Sometimes you got to think with both your heart and your head."
The audit also revealed bad financial management; Bertie overpaid in some areas, while leaving some state and federal funds on the table. In a letter from the State Board of Education to Bertie County Schools, Schauss said underpayments and overpayments cost the district $1 million. They include:
- $339,000 in un-cashed checks
- $250,000 in overpayments to Blue Cross Blue Shield
- $200,000 in unrealized collection of costs for federally funded programs
- $180,000 reversion of unexpended state allotments
- $60,000 in unused state position allotments
The school system hired a new finance officer in February. Hill said the previous finance officer was "in over their head" and failed to bring in available funds.
"A lot of money that's out there we have to ask for or request," Hill said of state and federal funding. "And if you don't send the request, they don't send you the money."
The district's new finance officer is working with the state to bring in funds it has left on the table since 2011. The district is also working with the state on a five-year recovery plan to be approved by the State Board of Education. Hill said he believes the plan will get the district back on track.
"We'll be the cleanest, smoothest-running district in the state at the end of this thing," he said.