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School board adjusts minutes in Holdway issue

The Claiborne School Board decided last week to take the road of least resistance by ‘correcting’ its meeting minutes to reflect best practices required by the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office during its latest audit.

Otherwise, the school system would be ‘out’ a significant chunk of change in litigation costs, if it decided to go after a reimbursement in CEO supplemental funds, according to county attorney James Estep III.

Auditor finding 2017-001, paragraph A, on page 183 shows a significant deficiency in internal controls having, in part, to do with the payout of $7,000 in personal development training class funds to Connie Holdway, the former director of schools.

“As authorization for the payment, the Finance Office provided our auditors with a letter signed by the chairperson of the Board of Education that stated that the board had met on June 5, 2017, and unanimously approved this payment as a bonus for services rendered. However, no board minutes were produced, documenting that the meeting occurred or what may have been approved at that meeting. This payment was reflected in the teacher’s salary line item in the General Purpose School Fund, rather than the line-item used for the director of schools salary,” states the finding, in part.

Dr. Joseph Miller, the current director of schools, said the evidence shows that Holdway met all the requirements for the payout by completing the personal development classes. The problem, he said, is the minutes do not show an official vote had been taken to relinquish those funds.

Board member Justin Cosby questioned whether anyone would be “held accountable.”

After a bit of discussion, board member Shane Bunch said he could explain some of the history behind the payouts.

Prior directors, he said, received ‘career ladder’ money. However, that particular designation was not used for the funds.

“A level one director would receive $1,000. Now, when the personal development classes came on board — they were entitled to have — they’d just turn that back in to the general fund of the school system.

“Later on, we had another (director) who was a level three. He had $3,000 on the career ladder. They allowed him to have that $3,000 without taking a cut out of that. But, they let the personal development classes, which they’d be entitled to, go back to the general fund, which would be a $2,000 offset for that director.

“Connie (Holdway) was a level two. She got $2,000 in career ladder money. In doing so, she put $1,000 back in personal development classes,” said Bunch.

For seven or eight years, this ‘gentleman’s agreement’ was in operation, he said.

“We didn’t know that, as a board. Then, Connie (Holdway) told us, later, that she thought she was entitled to (the money) for her personal development classes,” said Bunch.

He said that the board, by a ‘head shake and nod,’ agreed to the total $7,000 payout.

Bunch did say he had checked with Angelia Tucker, county school finance officer, to see if she could verify the documentation to support the payout.

“She assured me that those personal development classes were taken and that the money was there.

“The only problem we had was, Connie knew she was getting $2,000, knowing that the $1,000 personal development classes was included in that $2,000. Then she told us she was entitled to her personal development class money,” said Bunch.

Estep said that, if the board voted against adding the payout approval to the minutes, the auditor would continue to find a deficiency.

“The state comptroller’s office would require you to file litigation to try to collect it back,” said Estep.

It could cost the county upwards of $1,500, he said, in court costs and depositions if the board decided to litigate the matter.

With a vote of five to two, the board approved the correction to the minutes. Board member Wade Breeding voted against the issue. Cosby abstained from voting.

The Claiborne School Board will conduct its regular monthly committee meeting at 6 p.m. on Feb. 22, inside the Central Office board room.

The next regular monthly meeting of the school board will begin at 6 p.m. on March 8. Future board meetings will be held inside the large courtroom of the Claiborne Courthouse.

The public is encouraged to attend these monthly meetings.