CLINTON — In the wake of an investigation of East Feliciana Parish school system finances, School Board member Tim Corcoran persevered Tuesday in pushing two requests for detailed financial information over the objections of the board president and Finance Committee chairman.
The Sheriff's Office and other agencies are investigating certain aspects of the school system's finances, District Attorney Sam D'Aquilla said after he left the meeting, and Corcoran's requests appear to be related to the probe.
Board President Richard Terrell first tried to amend the meeting agenda to send Corcoran's requests to the Finance Committee, but Corcoran made a substitute motion to keep them on the agenda.
Corcoran's motion passed, with support from Lillian Drake, Rufus Nesbitt, Mitchell Harrell, Paul Kent, Melvin Hollins and Beth Dawson. Terrell also voted with the majority, however, while Finance Committee Chairman Michael Bradford and Joyce Kent dissented. Edward Brooks Jr. abstained and Derald Spears missed the initial vote.
Corcoran prefaced his first motion seeking financial data, saying he had earlier requested information.
"It's kind of been tough to get," Corcoran said, adding that the board should exercise its oversight role and "to do that you need some information."
Corcoran asked for three years of banking records, as well as other historical financial data.
When he called for copies of all credit card receipts, including those from Home Depot in Zachary and Pat's Hardware in Clinton, Terrell objected vehemently, slamming his gavel and saying he was sending the request to the Finance Committee.
"I'm going to continue," Corcoran said, seeking a verbal opinion from D'Aquilla.
The district attorney said the Slaughter member should be allowed to finish his motion, and Corcoran continued reading.
A copy of the motion was not available Tuesday night, but the requested financial information — for a three-year period — includes work orders issued under a $4 million federally subsidized bond issue, copies of travel receipts, contract information on the board's financial adviser, moneys paid to Superintendent Carlos Sam and information showing compliance with state bid laws.
Corcoran said he wants the information by the next board meeting, but the superintendent said he may have to hire additional people or pay overtime to develop the reports because the district has only one accountant and one payroll clerk.
Bradford argued that Corcoran essentially is asking for an audit when the board already has an accounting firm hired to do the 2017-18 audit.
Terrell said the board members should act as professionals and work together, suggesting that some members have been acting as a "second board."
After a lengthy discussion, Nesbitt, Harrell, Paul Kent, Corcoran, Hollins, Dawson, Drake and Spears voted to get the information, while Bradford and Terrell dissented and Brooks and Joyce Kent abstained.
D'Aquilla pointed out that the information sought in the motion will fill "boxes and boxes." He suggested that any board member not wanting to receive the information sign a statement to that effect.
Bradford, Terrell and Joyce Kent voted against Corcoran's second motion, which asks that future financial reports be arranged with schools designated as "cost centers" in order for members to better follow the flow of money.
Some members said the arrangement will focus attention on intra-parish rivalries rather than the school system as a whole.
"If a load of rocks (gravel) is dropped off at Jackson, a load will be dropped off at Clinton," Bradford said.
Terrell said if he were the board's accountant, "I'd say I'd resign in the morning."
On another matter related to finances, the board adopted, with little discussion, its first written policy on the use of credit cards. It and other policy changes stemmed from an audit last year that recommended a series of best-practice policies, financial adviser Tommy LeJeune said.
LeJeune also reported a potential financial problem tied to a drop in student enrollment. Although the state takes an official head count on Oct. 1, the number of students counted in the state funding formula was 1,792 on Aug. 28. But the state Minimum Foundation Program is budgeted this year on 1,827 students, he said.
"At $5,800 a student, you could be looking at a $200,000 deficit," LeJeune said. To answer "where has the money gone," board members should understand that last year's budget was based on $12 million in state funding but this year it's $10.6 million because of enrollment losses.
"That's a lot of damn money to come out of your budget," he said.