published Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

Trion: $60,000 in school funds missing

Trion City School officials have hired an outside auditor to find out where up to $60,000 from the school district's afterschool program went.

Superintendent Dr. Phil Williams said Kelly Blackmon, who was in charge of the afterschool program, recently was fired, in part because of questions about the program.

"This had a bearing on the decision for her not being employed with Trion City Schools. But this was not the one reason she was terminated," Williams said.

At a called meeting on Monday, the school board agreed to hire Whittington, Jones & Rudert Certified Public Accountants in Rome, Ga., to investigate the funds. The board will pay $2,500 to $3,500 for the audit.

So far, Williams said, no one is being accused of criminal wrongdoing.

"I don't know that there's any missing money," he said. "We just want them to look into our revenues and find out what could possibly be going on with that revenue source."

If accountants find any evidence of wrongdoing, the issue would be sent to local and state law enforcement.

Trion Police Chief Chad Spraggins said that after school officials contacted him about the unaccounted-for funds, he asked the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to investigate to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest.

But GBI agents said an outside source needed to first prove that a crime had occurred before an investigation could begin, Spraggins said.

The probe was prompted when officials learned of a staggering drop in revenue from the afterschool program, which charges families for providing supervision of schoolchildren from 2 to 6 p.m. Families pay a rate based on how long students attend.

Williams said the program has generated between $50,000 and $60,000 annually in recent years. But two years ago, that revenue sunk to about $32,000, and last year it was about $27,000, he said.

While factors such as a shaky economy could explain the drop, Williams said they won't know for sure until the audit is completed. The first phase of the probe, looking at last year's revenues, should be completed by mid-November, he said. The board then may decide to look into other years, if necessary.

School board chairwoman Connie Witt said some financial papers regarding the afterschool program had been lost or destroyed.

"Some of the documents are no longer in existence," she said.

That's why the board decided to bring in outside experts to examine the funds issue, she said. Still, she stressed that the school board isn't pointing fingers at anybody yet.

"This is not a witch hunt for anybody," she said. "We are trying to figure out exactly what happened -- with proof. We're right at the very beginning of it.".

about Kevin Hardy...

Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...

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