07/18/10 — Investigation into former school official ongoing, quiet

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Investigation into former school official ongoing, quiet

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on July 18, 2010 1:50 AM

Nearly seven months have passed since the announcement that the county school district's second in command, Sprunt Hill, was suspended amidst a state investigation, and still little movement has been made in the case.

Hill, who served as assistant superintendent for auxiliary services before quietly retiring three months into his suspension, had been with the district for 32 years. In his last position, he oversaw the day-to-day school operations, including maintenance, custodial work, technology support and transportation. He also was heavily involved in creating the school system's facility plan and overseeing construction and renovation projects for area schools.

On Dec. 18, he was placed on administrative leave with pay as the State Bureau of Investigation opened an investigation, Wayne County Sheriff Carey Winders said at the time.

In late March, school officials announced Hill had retired effective March 1.

To date, no charges have been filed and officials have remained tight-lipped about the particulars of the case.

Inquiries through the U.S. Attorney's Office in Raleigh in recent months have produced no findings.

Earlier this week, Robin Zier from the public information office with the U.S. Attorney's Office confirmed that Hill's case had still not come up for consideration.

"I'm looking at Pacer, which is a docketing system for the Federal government and he has not been charged with anything," she said Monday. "There's no information regarding that name."

When later contacted about other possible agencies that might be handling the case, she replied in an e-mail, "I'm sorry, but local rules prohibit me from confirming or denying any possible investigation. And I'm sorry but I really can't refer you to another person or agency."

Dr. Steven Taylor, superintendent of schools, also was limited in what he could say about the personnel matter that remains "an ongoing investigation" since no action has been taken.

Aware, however, that rumors have been rampant since the announcement was first made, he agreed to speak with the News-Argus, hoping to clarify a few points.

"The administration has been fully cooperative with the investigation and will continue to do so as needed," he said Thursday. "Rumors in the community not based on fact serve no purpose and have a negative impact, particularly on the individuals involved, as well as the school district.

"It is our hope that all matters can be cleared up soon, but we continue to move forward with our focus on educating the 19,000-plus students in our district."

Since Hill's departure, his responsibilities have been divided up among staff at the central office.

That will continue until further notice, Taylor said.

"It is our plan at this time to not replace the position of assistant superintendent for auxiliary services in its present status," he said. "These duties have been reassigned to the other leadership team members -- maintenance, operations and safety/security will be assigned to Mrs. Nan Barwick, assistant superintendent for fiscal services; transportation has been assigned to Mr. Marvin McCoy, assistant superintendent for human resource services; and technology assigned to Mrs. Olivia Pierce, executive director for information/technology services. Athletics will be assigned to Dr. Sandra McCullen, associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

"This will place additional responsibility on the leadership team, but they are willing to work with these areas for the upcoming year. We will reassess the reassignment of these duties and responsibilities at the end of next year."

One change, though, will be in the hiring of an internal auditor for Wayne County Public Schools, Taylor said.

"The school district's external auditor has suggested for several years that the board consider employing an internal auditor with the responsibility for the planning and performance of comprehensive and recurring audits in finance, operations and instructional areas to provide assurance that the school district's financial objectives are being met," he explained. "Thus, we are currently advertising for this position and plan to move forward with this appointment."

By not readily filling Hill's position, a portion of the funding that would have been allocated for that salary will be made available for the auditor position, Taylor said.

Objectives of the audits conducted internally, he continued, will be to ensure the reliability and integrity of information obtained, compliance with policies, procedures, laws and regulations, safeguarding of assets, the economical use of resources and the accomplishment of the established objectives and goals for operations or programs.

He did not specify whether the decision to hire an internal auditor was related to the

Taylor said despite the difficult past few months, and until the matter is resolved, he and his staff will do their best to ensure the district is in good working order.

"We look forward to implementation as soon as possible to better assure financial integrity and accountability in all areas of school operation," he said.