Craven County Schools is broke – Part 3

Once again, I write about Craven County Schools because two other articles on the recent announcement the district will be $3.5 million in the hole next year has not covered the amount of waste by the current board.

Following is a list of where some of your money has been spent in the past year.

Legal services
At the end of the past fiscal year, Craven County Schools spent $330,641 on legal services. That figure represents an extra $60,426 than what was budgeted, according to the financial audit presented to the board in December.
So, how did the district find itself spending so much on legal fees? Well, when you’re strapped with a civil action filed on behalf of a former student who suffered brain damage while nearly drowning on a school-sponsored field trip and have decided to fight the claims of “negligence,” it costs money.

Not only is Craven County Schools gearing up for a legal battle with the student as apparent during all their closed session meetings citing “attorney-client privilege,” but they’ve also been engrossed in a battle with a special needs mom who has asked for months for the disclosure of investigative materials related to an unauthorized therapeutic hold on her child which one doctor described as causing “excessive” bruises, according to court documents.

It was just this month that a judge reprimanded the school district for hiring an attorney to investigate the hold, which the N.C. Department of Public Instruction ruled unnecessary. The judge called into question the school’s integrity in hiring an attorney to investigate what should have been scrutinized by the district itself. He also seemed to allude to the fact it was a waste of taxpayers’ money for the school system to even contract with an attorney while staff could have investigated the hold.

Then, there’s the defense fund paid for by the school district regarding the bus driver who accidentally killed another person while navigating U.S. 70 in Goldsboro at 3:30 a.m. during the trip back from New Bern High School’s football championship game in December of 2014.

The driver was clearly in the wrong. She failed to yield while making a U-turn, according to the report from the State Trooper investigating the case. However, the school district wasted its money (or your money) on her legal defense.

Furthermore, according to the district’s own policies, they could have chosen not to pay the legal fees as breaking the law while fulfilling an employee’s duties gives the district a chance to opt out of footing the bill.

Public relations and marketing
Per the district’s audit report released in December, Craven County Schools overspent in public relations and marketing during the last fiscal year by more than $50,000. Now, while facing a budget shortfall of $3.5 million next year that may not seem like a lot of money, but it adds up quickly. In fact, when the public relations director herself makes around $80,000 a year, one has to question this overspending of funds. In a time where social media is readily available for public consumption, how can it cost that much to spread the word about important matters parents and stakeholders need to know about. The district has a Facebook account, a Twitter feed and a show on Channel 10 that actually donates a portion of time to the school. In addition, the local newspaper runs a free page each week highlighting the school system’s accomplishments. This writer would like to know where that money is spent.

GPS system on buses
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m all about student safety if that is why you’re spending money. Nothing is more valuable than the little ones who venture on and off the buses each day. However, just like in your personal household, you must set a budget and work within its constraints.

Craven County Schools simply didn’t do this when it decided to contract with Synovia GPS at a cost of $6,156 per month to install GPS systems on each bus in the district. Originally, the School Board asked the Craven County Board of Commissioners to foot the $68,000 bill to contract with the company; however, commissioners focused on other capital needs that were more pressing.

After the Board of Commissioners denied the request, the Board of Education suddenly inherited transportation funds allowing the district to contract with the company.

Now, why did they install the systems on the buses? Was it simply for student safety? I wish I could say yes, but having attended a board meeting where it was discussed, this is not the case. The purpose of the GPS system was to save on fuel and track employees’ time.

Again, please tell me why we need a GPS tracker to find an employee of the school district? If my employer couldn’t find me while supposedly on the clock and I couldn’t produce an acceptable answer, my job would be gone. But not the employee mentioned by the Transportation Director to the board. That employee kept his or her job.

Suspension of employees without pay

Now, this one is a little tricky because according to a report in the Sun Journal, the district doesn’t actually track its expenses in this category. Highlights of the article include Craven County Schools spending thousands of dollars to teachers “suspended with pay.” The number could obviously be higher than thousands but one example highlighted an educator who was paid $1,023 in four days to sit at home.

Chairman Carr Ipock defended the policy stating each employee was innocent until proven guilty. So, not only do the employees enjoy a right only given to those on trial in criminal cases but the taxpayers must foot the bill until the employee is either reinstated or fired.

This writer inquired with other local government entities about their policies on “suspension with pay” and was actually laughed at. North Carolina is an at-will to work state – period. I doubt many other institutions run on the same stance Chairman Ipock does.

School redistricting
Again, I don’t have the figures for the consultants who were hired to delve into attendance trends, birth rates, etc. regarding school attendance but I am certain this money was wasted if the board actually considers a feasible alternative to saving funds to be closing a school.

Why move around 5,000 students one year when during the next you will have to move an entire school? Why waste the public’s time and the consultant’s? And, more importantly why do this to parents and teachers who have been bounced from school-to-school for a few years in a row now to deal with overcrowding.

Oh, and by the way, redistricting never dealt with overcrowding as all three high schools are currently over 100 percent capacity.

What I would like to know and what the public should demand is the amount wasted on the consultants to redistrict.

Check back for more as I follow the money.

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