08/20/08 — Duplin hires firm to audit schools' finances

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Duplin hires firm to audit schools' finances

By Steve Herring
Published in News on August 20, 2008 1:51 PM

KENANSVILLE -- A financial and performance audit of the Duplin County School District approved Monday by county commissioners is not a "retaliatory" response to the school board's suit against the county, Commissioner Cary Turner said.

The two sides are battling in court over money.

Turner said the audit will allow commissioners "to be able to see what their needs are. If they (audit officials) say we need to give them (the schools) more, I am willing to give them more. If it is less, it is less. I am willing to honor whatever the outcome is."

He added that a similar audit in Beaufort County reflected a five-year savings of just over $6 million. Florida-based Evergreen Solutions, the same company that will conduct the Duplin County audit at a cost of $75,000, conducted the Beaufort audit.

Turner has been trying since last month to convince his fellow board members to approve the study. His motion, seconded by Commissioner Zettie Williams, was approved by a 5-1 vote. Commissioner L.S. Guy voted "no."

"We were discussing this plan way before the lawsuit," Turner said. "This was in motion at the beginning of July and attorneys asked us to put it off during mediation. It's not like this is retaliation -- we had planned this."

Commissioners and the school board have been embroiled in a funding dispute since June. Mediation invoked by the school board failed to resolve the conflict that is now under way Duplin County Superior Court.

The audit will analyze the current expense status of district finances; review financial operations including travel expenditures, payroll system, internal allocations of resources; review other operations of the district such as organization and management, human resources and facilities maintenance and use of capital fund; and analyze data and develop a report with recommendations.

Evergreen would then recommend strategies for improvements in the use of funds in the schools and would develop a plan for implementing the recommendations.

"I have made the motion and I will make the motion again that we call for a financial audit of our educational system," Turner said. "I am not attacking them out of spite. During mediation, we had about nine different (budget) figures thrown at us (by the school board) and at the end of mediation, I still did not know what they wanted. So by doing an audit we will."

The audit, he said, is an effort to find ways to save money.

Guy said the county received an e-mail from another company interested in performing the audit. He did not identify the company.

"I am not opposed to a performance or financial audit of Duplin County commissioners or the Duplin County Board of Education," Guy said. "But if we are going to get into the financial audit business, I feel we need be as all encompassing as we can be and be as economical."

Turner said the county had "been putting off the audit since July. Every time it is a little longer, a little longer."

Guy said he was not talking about delaying the audit.

"I am saying let's do it as economically as we can," Guy said. "I don't see the great urgency to do it in the next two weeks. I am only looking for ways to save money."

Commissioner Reginald Wells questioned County Manager Mike Aldridge as to whether the county was required to take bids.

Since the audit is considered "professional services," the county does not have to bid it out, Aldridge said.