SUMTER SCHOOL DISTRICT

District already paid back $177K

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Sumter School District has made more information available on its Early Childhood Education Program and employees after the state Department of Education released last week to The Sumter Item its audit findings on the program.

Those findings, detailed in a report from the department's Office of Auditing Services, assert two employees in the district's 4-year-old kindergarten program misused about $177,000 in state funding in recent years, and the state department recommended the district pay that money back, which it has.

The office's auditors determined the two program employees - the district's early childhood program director and a program health coordinator/school nurse - were being paid "excessive" program training fees totaling $163,157.21, and the director purchased "unallowable" programmatic expenditures incurred by the district for supplies totaling $13,765.58. The findings involve activities in the two previous fiscal years (2015-16 and 2016-17).

The 11-page report was previously provided to the State Law Enforcement Division as part of its ongoing criminal investigation into financial improprieties in the district's program. It was provided last week to The Sumter Item after the district submitted to the state department a corrective action plan on the program Tuesday.

After inquiries, the school district said the early childhood director retired from the district in July. The program health coordinator/school nurse, who reported to the director, is currently on administrative leave during the SLED investigation. Both could face criminal charges.

The early childhood director, who was in her position for at least the two school years in question, had an annual salary of $95,859.00, according to district data. The audit report details she received additional compensation of $96,687.50 in the two fiscal years for providing professional development training to the program's 4-year-old kindergarten teachers and instructional assistants in the district.

The office's auditors disallowed all that extra compensation and said the trainings should have part of her regular job duties, according to its report.

The program's school nurse earned between $38,000 and $42,000, the district said. The state office disallowed a total of $66,469.71 of her training fee compensation during the two years.

In addition to implementing a program corrective action plan, the district said Friday it has reimbursed the state department the full amount recommended, which was $176,922.79. The district said that to move forward, it felt that action was appropriate.

The district also explained that the misused early childhood education spending did not contribute to the $6.2 million general fund balance budget deficit for fiscal 2016. According to district officials, the Child Early Reading Development and Education Program is under a special revenue fund - the Education Improvement Act - which is not part of the general fund, and the program was self-sufficient.

The state's audit report said the district received from the state department about $3 million in program funding in fiscal year 2015-16 and about $2.2 million in fiscal year 2016-17.