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School district audit finds ‘fraud, waste and abuse’

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Auditor's report Vicksburg Warren School District

The Vicksburg Warren School District was cited for 19 separate issues in an audit dated Nov. 18. Eleven of the issues say the district has not complied with state law.

The Mississippi State Auditor’s Office examined the district’s procedures for the school year that ended June 30, 2020.

“We identified certain deficiencies in internal control over financial reporting that we consider to be a material weakness in internal control and certain deficiencies in internal control that we consider to be significant deficiencies in internal control,” the report states.

In addition, “we noted certain instances of noncompliance with state laws that require the attention of management.”

Responses from the district were included in the report, and many of the issues were blamed on transferring the books from one software package to another.

Among the most egregious issues cited were travel reimbursements paid to Director of Financial Operations Shaquita Burke by the Hinds Public Schools District, then duplicated and paid by VWSD. Burke traveled with her husband, Earl Burke, who worked for the Hinds County School District at the time. He is no longer employed there.

“These transactions and the actions of the Chief Financial Officer resulted in fraud, waste, and abuse in the amount of $9,612.88, $4,172.72 of which has been repaid,” the audit report states, adding that the matter has been turned over to the auditor’s investigations division.

Reportedly, Burke was among the individuals who wrote the responses to the audit, and the district’s response to this particular item claims that all amounts have been repaid as of Dec. 3.

“Due to the known illegal reimbursements made by the Director of Financial Operations at VWSD, auditors reviewed additional reimbursements and compared those to other reimbursements at the Hinds County School District and discovered over $5,000 in additional reimbursements that had not been identified or paid back by the VWSD Director of Financial Operations,” the audit states in reply.

Burke resigned from her position with VWSD the day before the audit report was published. Her resignation is effective Friday, Dec. 18.

Dorothy Wallace is serving as interim director of finance for the district until a permanent replacement is hired.

Another error discovered in the audit was an overpayment of payroll taxes of nearly $500,000.

“We immediately contacted the IRS and were instructed to include payment with quarterly 941’s which would show an amount due to VWSD and a refund will be issued,” the district stated in its response.

The audit also discovered discrepancies in the district’s Investment Trust Account, its accounting for athletic events, credit card purchases, maintaining and preparing school board minutes, and the use of Supervisor Chad Shealy’s signature for purchases.

The issues where the district did not comply with state law also include instances where Shealy’s signature was not used correctly for purchases. In addition, the audit found unbalanced expenses of $10,129,045 across several accounts, failure to present financial reports to the school board for four of the months examined, failure to secure competitive bids, failure to secure statements of economic interest from all board members, several issues with sixteenth section land, failure to comply with laws regarding rehiring of retired personnel, failure to comply with laws regarding surety bonds, and failure to comply with laws regarding nepotism.

“The District goes to great lengths to be sure that taxpayers’ money is accounted for properly and most of the findings had already been discovered and adjusted through internal controls,” the district said in an email statement. “We appreciate the assistance and cooperation of the State Auditor’s office in helping us and other public entities remain compliant.”

Read the full report here.

Copyright © 2021 Vicksburg Daily News.

Vicksburg Daily News