Local News

Wake County Schools Deal With Two Cases Of Possible Embezzlement

Posted June 11, 2005 2:34 a.m. EDT

— The Wake County School System was already dealing with a high profile fraud case when more suspected embezzlement surfaced this week.

The school system said changes made after the first investigation allowed them to catch the second.

But the timing could not be worse as county commissioners are about to determine the school system's budget for next year.

When it comes to the spending habits of the Wake County School System, some county commissioners are firing away.

"I just don't think they spend their money very expeditiously," said County Commissioner Phil Jeffreys.

Two investigations are not helping the school system's image.

Since August, school officials and SBI agents have been looking into a suspected fraud scheme involving millions of dollars at the transportation department.

In a separate case, on Feb. 28, Garner police filed a report of missing money from a school nutrition program at Garner Senior High School.

Still, some commissioners are coming to the school system's rescue.

"I have some concerns about what has happened, but I don't have concerns in terms of how they do business," said County Commissioner Betty Lou Ward.

Ward is satisfied with the way the school system is handling the potentially criminal cases.

Deputy Superintendent Del Burns hopes the school system can be judged on its response.

"We've been very transparent with everyone involved," Burns said.

System-wide auditing changes include five new fiscal administrators -- watchdogs embedded in different departments.

Instead of reporting to department leaders, the watchdogs answer to the school system's finance officer, Mark Winters.

"They're there for compliance to make sure rules and procedures are followed," Winters said.

Even so, Burns said it is impossible to be perfect with such a large school system.

"With 15,000 employees in this system, it is highly unlikely that we will have a year in which there will not be some issue that has to be addressed," Burns said.

Wake County School officials sent a letter to the state outlining the new ways they are tracking finances. They have also sent a letter to all employees telling them how to report fraud.

Both cases involving missing money are still under investigation.

No one has been charged yet.