Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Looking at proposed 'slush fund' audit, accompanying Web interview

Superintendent McIntyre
The Knox County Commission will ask auditors to investigate Knox County Schools' more than $15 million so-called “slush fund.” Some say the school system dips into the Physical Plant Upgrades account whenever a project goes over budget and they want to conceal the true costs.

You can find the online story as well as our television report right smack here.

Also, there’s a web extra video that runs about 6:45 minutes, which you can find about mid-way through the online story. It's a classic Superintendent Jim McIntyre interview in which he answers nothing, and accepts no blame or responsibility for anything. You should check it out.

Some things to note from the extra: 

  • 1:25 minute mark: McIntyre, a former finance director for the Boston School books, reverts back to that whole “safe, healthy, learning environment” motto. Heh. Really, his three public relations private advisers need to give him some new material.
  • 1:40 minute mark: He pretty much blames the (alleged) bad accounting on the “county,” meaning the county’s finance people – not the school finance people. Er, no.
  • 2:00 minute mark: Reiterates how his people work with the county finance department – “and it’s not just Knox County schools.” Er, no.
  • 2:15 minute mark: I ask if “land acquisition” payments should come from the Physical Plant Upgrade account and he again talks about how “the county accounts for those dollars.” Er, no. It’s how the school system accounts for those dollars.
  • 2:35 minute mark: My boy Jim Matheny asks McIntyre why he’s blaming the county and he still doesn’t answer the question.
  • 3:23 minute mark: You hear me say “this is a school thing,” meaning why are you blaming the county.
  • 4:00 minute mark: Now suggests that if there are any problems then they are tied to the “accounting system” that the county and the school system use.
  • 6:08 minute mark: McIntyre talks about how the system should have separate accounts for different projects (i.e. security, stadium upgrades, etc.) and how that “would make sense.” Well, on paper, they do, according to the budget that was approved by the county commission and school board. The problem is, they’re all getting paid out of the Physical Plant Upgrades account.
  • 6:20 minute mark: Now it’s all on the school board and the county, and those boards set the policy. Uh, no. The boards do not currently micro-manage at that level (although maybe they will start). In fact, McIntyre over the years has repeatedly reminded the County Commission – and rightly so – that once its members allocate the money, they cannot tell the school system how to spend it.

Look, I don't know why there's all this chucking and ducking. I’ve read through a lot of these records, and it doesn’t look like the school system is out buying Ferraris or illegally spending the money. They’re getting things they need. The problem rests in the accounting and in accountability.

The School System talks a big game about its transparency, but few in the public actually buy it. And these kinds of problems don’t help their argument.

In the meantime, the Knox County Commission next Monday will officially sign off on the proposal to audit the Physical Plant Upgrades account. The county’s internal auditor, Andrea Williams, will conduct it.

Williams, a former compliance advisory support senior manager with the Tennessee Valley Authority, recently took over the department, and this will be her first major challenge.

But, make no mistake, she is the real deal.

The audit should be complete in four to six weeks.

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