Upstate School District Dawdles on Posting Data

September 6, 2010

Investigative Reports

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The NerveBy Jan Williams
Citizen Reporter

A recent report on The Nerve pointed out that nearly 70 percent of South Carolina school districts have complied with a state law that requires them to put their check registers online. However, the Greenville County School District was not among those.

On July 21, an e-mail was sent by The Nerve to Greenville County School Board trustee Megan Hickerson. Included were comments from Greenville County Administrator Joe Kernell, who said he was able to post the county’s expenditures online without any additional costs.

Hickerson responded, “I have asked for information on the issue you raise and as soon as I have all of the facts I will be back in touch with you.”

Over the next five-plus weeks, Hickerson identified problems involved with posting the district’s check register online, some of which were posted on the district’s website.

The district estimated a $4,959 one-time expense and $23,532 in annual recurring expenses for the 20,000 or so postings per month. It also expressed concern that the mandate was to provide funding, but none is available, according to website information.

Hickerson pointed out that budget cuts over the past two years have reduced the number of personnel that could be assigned this function.

She was advised that these were the same problems that Greenville County believed might stymie the process, but that Kernell had bypassed those perceptions and posted the county’s expenses online.

It’s still unclear as of today whether school district officials have contacted the county administrator for suggestions on implementing the process.

The need for such transparency has never been greater.

As of the end of the 2009-10 fiscal year, the school district had approximately $16 million in general obligation bonds outstanding. And under the Building Equity Sooner Tomorrow school construction program, or BEST, bond obligations were at $1.09 billion.

This is a very big financial debt the citizens of Greenville County are obligated to pay off. Glancing at the budget of the Greenville School District, it can be quite confused trying to discern what the money was actually designated for.

Decisions already made cannot be changed, but current expenses can be evaluated and concerns expressed where necessary so perceived problems aren’t repeated. It only makes sense that the more persons reviewing information, the more likely errors will be found, if there are any.

Hickerson advised that the finance department is putting together audit information required for the external audit due to the board in November. She added that the board is planning to be in compliance with the law regarding the posting of online check registers in the near future, but does not have a stated date.

Jan Williams is a former Navy supply corps officer and a retired automotive fabrics development engineer from Milliken and Co. who lives in Greenville.