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Wake Schools Adopts More Business-Like Approach to Finances

Posted December 1, 2006
Updated December 7, 2006

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— After seeing its public trust suffer during high-profile fraud and theft cases, the Wake County Public School System has hired a chief business officer to help restore accountability and credibility to the school district's finances.

David Neter will serve as a financial watchdog to ensure taxpayer money, including a $970 million school construction bond issue approved last month by local voters, is spent efficiently and effectively.

"I think we're sending the message that we're a business. Granted, we're in the business of teaching and learning," said Neter, a former Blue Cross and Blue Shield of South Carolina manager with expertise in accounting and technology.

His hiring came after several former school transportation employees and a bus parts company were convicted in a kickback scheme that cost the district more than $4 million. A Garner cafeteria manager also pleaded guilty to embezzling more than $200,000 from a school lunch account.

The Wake County Board of Education also implemented an independent audit committee following the transportation fraud scandal. The board will learn the details of a new external audit of the system's money management next Tuesday.

Neter said he's encouraged by changes in fiscal accountability in the district, but he said he sees plenty of room for improvement.

"(We're) looking under the covers, if you will, and saying, 'OK, what business practices can we bring in?'" he said.

He said he hopes to increase efficiency with new technology and bring a tougher, business-like approach to negotiating vendor contracts.

"I don't think we're negotiating those contracts as well as we can. I think we're leaving some taxpayer money on the table," he said.

He recently fired a shot across the bow of some building contractors by ordering a fixed cost reimbursement policy.

"They weren't thrilled about it, which tells me it's a good thing," he said with a smile.

The new school bond brought critics of the school district to the forefront, but Neter said he plans to answer those who voted against the bond with more accountability.

"Now that the bond has passed, the microscope is out even more so, and the magnification just went up by a factor of 10," he said.
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