As Superintendent Tom Shelton works on a corrective action plan in response to State Auditor Adam Edelen's examination of Fayette County Public Schools, Shelton said he will "shore up" district policies on budget transfers.
In a report released Sept. 17, Edelen said that a payment to a vendor did not comply with district policy on budget transfers. The vendor was a company owned by a personal friend of Shelton.
"FCPS circumvented district controls," the report said.
Shelton said in his response to the examination that the district will "shore up board policies" related to budget transfers, examine and evaluate the benefit of existing vendor services and reinforce strict adherence to procurement guidelines.
Julane Mullins, the school district's budget director, sent an email in May to board members that included several allegations that Edelen ultimately investigated. She alleged Shelton violated a board policy that required board approval of transfers over $50,000 when he directed that two $75,000 payments be made to NaviGo, a Northern Kentucky-based company that offers career and college preparation services.
Auditors noted that Shelton is a friend of NaiviGo founder and CEO Tim Hanner. "Auditors did not identify this relationship as a conflict of interest because it was not determined that the Superintendent received benefits from his relationship. However, concerns are that this relationship may have played a role in the procurement process as some favoritism appears to have been shown as the district did not follow appropriate procurement policies," Edelen's report said.
Shelton said he embraced Edelen's recommendations, "but we want to be clear that there was no intent to circumvent controls in this situation."
In addition to invoice payments of $150,000, Edelen found that the district had spent about $37,600 in stipends to teachers for training related to NaviGo's services, bringing the total amount of district funds expended in relation to the vendor to at least $187,600.
Shelton said Hanner, a retired Kenton County schools superintendent and a former Kentucky associate commissioner of education, was a longtime colleague.
Hanner, Shelton said, is one of five owners of NaviGo.
Shelton has said that his relationship with Hanner didn't have anything to do with the decision to find a way to improve college and career planning in Fayette schools. Edelen's examination did not criticize the actions of NaviGo.
Hanner told the Herald-Leader last summer that the district entered into the contract with NaviGo not because of him, but because "of the services we provided."
NaviGo had done everything the company was contracted to do, Hanner previously told the Herald-Leader. "I know everything we have done is in good faith."
Auditors confirmed that before July 2013, the board had a policy that limited the superintendent's authority within his budget to transfer amounts that exceeded $50,000.
The board amended the policy in July 2013.
The first budget transfer completed on June 26, 2013, violated the board policy in effect on that date, Edelen's examination found. However, because of the change in board policy, the second transfer, completed on May 2, 2014, did not violate the amended policy.
In addition to the review of budget transfers associated with payments to the vendor, auditors identified several violations in the procurement process.
Shelton has previously said Fayette schools volunteered for the pilot program, a normal process for new programs in education, and it does not require the use of a bidding process because the vendor was considered a "sole source" provider, or the only provider that could initiate and create such a program.
Edelen's findings said there should have been written justification regarding why the procurement of the services should not be competitive. However, there was no written determination identifying the vendor as a sole-source vendor as of the date of the first payment, the findings said.
State law says that a local public agency may contract or purchase without a bid only when a written determination is made that competition is not feasible, according to Edelen's report.
The findings questioned whether the vendor's services were substantially different from college preparation services already available to students through the district.
A second violation of board policy noted by auditors was the lack of a formal contract. District personnel were unable to provide the written contract between FCPS and the vendor.
A board policy says that "Any proposed contracts for more than $20,000 shall be submitted to the Board for approval and shall be accompanied by figures showing the estimated cost of the project to the district."
The district spent $150,000 for the vendor's services, but no approval of a formal contract was found in board minutes, Edelen's report said.
Auditors said there were several deficiencies in the executive summary that is serving as the contract, including vague terms and a lack of sufficient detail.
Edelen recommended that the district reinstate a budget transfer policy with an appropriate threshold to ensure any revisions to the budget are appropriately reviewed and approved by the board.
Edelen also recommended the district follow proper procurement guidelines for the solicitation of all services. The report also said the district should assess the benefit of continuing the services and whether duplicate work is already being performed.
Shelton said in his response to the examination that participating schools had given positive feedback about the effectiveness of NaviGo. In May, students and teachers told the Herald-Leader that the program had provided significant benefits.
Shelton has said the money used to fund the program was already in the district's existing budget.
Shelton told the Herald-Leader recently that at the time he was arranging for the NaviGo payments, he didn't think board approval was necessary because he was just moving money from one part of the superintendent's budget to another.
"Nonetheless, we will comply with revised budgeting and procurement processes as recommended by the auditor's report," Shelton said in response to Edelen's findings.