MDE audit finds several violations by Wayne County School District

Updated: Dec. 13, 2019 at 5:33 PM CST
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WAYNE COUNTY, Miss. (WDAM) - A four-month audit of the Wayne County School District has revealed several violations by the district and noncompliance with state and federal education requirements.

The Mississippi Department of Education began the audit on Aug. 29 and delivered the audit report to school officials on Tuesday.

The report reveals that the district is in violation of 22 out of 32 Process Standards. The district was also found to be noncompliant with accreditation policy.

Violations listed in the report range from errors in records keeping and reporting to failure to provide a safe learning environment for children.

The report stated that Wayne County Superintendent Bobby Jones “failed to provide effective educational leadership in key areas including the oversight and management of fiscal and day-to-day operations and the effective development and implementation of school district policies.”

The report also claims the Wayne County School Board failed to perform its duties overseeing management, as required by law.

The school district will have a chance to dispute the report’s findings next week.

“We really feel like that if they will listen to us, the steps that we’ve taken, we feel like we have this ship upright and we feel like its sailing in the right direction,” Jones said. “It just needs a little time to get there.”

The audit highlighted the troubling financial situation facing the school district.

On Nov. 22, the State Auditor informed State Superintendent of Education Dr. Carey Wright and the State Board of Education that a “serious financial condition exists in the Wayne County School District for the fiscal year end June 30, 2017.”

The conclusion was reached after the school’s most recent financial audit, which was for the fiscal year 2017.

The financial audit revealed that the district was financially unstable due to a lack of available cash.

According to the MDE audit, the school district failed to have internal controls to ensure assets are properly recorded, as well as having policies and procedures in place to reconcile expenditures with available resources. The report lists the WCSD as having a Maintenance Fund deficit of $14,074,915 and a cash deficit of $7,513,374.

Among the troubling financial findings is the failure by the district to pay sixteenth section principal trust loans, though the report said district management made a “pervasive entry” that made it appear the loans had been paid.

Auditors found that the school district failed to maintain proper attendance and graduation requirements for students.

According to the report, the WCSD failed to ensure that seniors received a minimum of 180 teaching days. Twenty-four graduates were also found to not have met the Carnegie units required for graduation.

MDE also reviewed the records of 194 graduates listed on the commencement program for the 2018-2019 school year and found that 30 students were allowed to participate in graduation, despite not meeting graduation requirements.

The school district’s attendance policy listed in the student handbook also did not comply with Mississippi state law, according to the report.

Perhaps the most troubling finding in the report is its claim that the district failed to provide a safe learning environment for students at district schools.

The audit evaluated six schools and the Career and Technical Education Center and determined that all failed to provide “clean and sanitary facilities in a safe and secure environment.”

Examples listed in the report include lack of or inoperable emergency lights in some buildings, no portable fire extinguishers in some buildings, no fire safety training for some staff, unprotected lights, roof leaks, lack of evacuation maps posted in one auditorium and a library, and a disabled fire alarm in one building.

All six schools also failed to meet minimum school safety requirements outlined by state board policies, state law and federal law.

The report said five schools evaluated failed to provide documentation on emergency evacuation drills for the 2018-2019 school year.

The district also failed to comply with policies that require quarterly inspections and maintenance of school buses.

Following the audit’s findings, the MDE Office of Accreditation will present evidence to the Commission on School Accreditation in Jackson on Monday. The Commission will then determine if an extreme emergency exists in the Wayne County School District that “jeopardizes the safety, security or educational interests of students in the district.”

District officials will be present at the meeting and be allowed to address the findings before a determination is made.

WCSD Board President Wilma Taylor released the following statement on behalf of the school board Thursday:

“Our school principals will be able to have official documents that will dispute several of the academic findings found by the MDE. We hope to immediately solve all of the minor findings that were not academic.

“The financial situation is, of course, concerning. We plan to be proactive as a board, and we have appointed a new superintendent who will take office on January 1. We really learned about serious financial issues this past June and have been working to help correct all those problems.

“We as a board are embarrassed this happened, especially when we are depending on certain people to oversee the day-to-day operations of the district. It was their responsibility to make sure we were doing things right.

“I personally think that we have a great school system, and I know for sure we have great teachers who are only concerned about the well being of our children.”

If the commission makes a recommendation Monday, it will then be presented to the State Board of Education during its meeting on Dec. 19.

Monday’s meeting with the Commission will take place at the MDE offices at 1 p.m. on the fourth floor board room of the Central High School Building at 359 North West Street. The public is invited to attend, though they cannot participate in the proceedings.

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