Local News

Audit of School System's Finances 'A Sweeping Indictment'

Posted December 20, 2007 4:40 p.m. EST
Updated May 7, 2008 2:44 p.m. EDT

— A preliminary audit has been released on the financial crisis at the Halifax County school system, and the results have some worried.

The report indicates the finance team had little idea how to properly handle finances. Some county leaders said they are concerned the financial mess will end up hurting more than just the school system.

“It was pretty sweeping, a sweeping indictment,” said Keith Hoggard, public relations coordinator for Halifax County Schools.

The preliminary audit from a private accounting firm showed books out of balance for the past two years. Local funds were used at times when state dollars should have been.

The school system also owed the state $841,000 over that time, despite a $280,000 advance from the county commission.

“Money is missing that had to go somewhere and had to be used by someone. There is responsibility here,” said Gene Minton, vice chairman of the Halifax County Commissioners

Questions remained whether anything that happened was against the law. The preliminary audit did not go into specifics, but there were eight statutory violations detailing how the school system handled its finances and six areas that could potentially be identified as fraud.

For a county trying to promote economic development, this doesn't help matters, Minton said.

“This certainly would make people think twice about their desire to be in this area,” he said.

The state said the money it's owed must be repaid through local funds. That means the county commission could get the bill.

“The responsibility for these funds falls squarely on the school board and the superintendent or the past superintendents,” Minton said.

“We need to change the way we do business, but we can get past this,” Hoggard said.

School officials said that has already started with an interim finance director in place and with financial guidance from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. The school board previously fired Finance Director James Sweet.

School officials said no one else on the finance team has their job in jeopardy.

School officials said they are eagerly awaiting the final audit to figure out what exactly went wrong. That audit should be ready the first week of January.