CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - After months of telling us it simply wasn't possible, the Berkeley County School District has released six months worth of documents at the center of a Live 5 investigation.
It was all centered around a new computer system, one that was designed to help with accountability, but instead hit road blocks, and prevented them from posting financial records required by law.
The complications came in the wake of a million-dollar embezzlement scandal from which the district is still recovering.
Last month, the School District’s former Chief Financial Officer was sentenced to 11 years in prison for 37 state charges. Brantley Thomas admitted he embezzled $1.2 million dollars from BCSD.
“Some of that has to do with the fact that we needed checks and balances,” explained BCSD Public Information Officer Katie Tanner. “Our board is very committed to making sure that what happened before does not happen again.”
Tanner said BCSD is overhauling how it handles finances, including a recommendation to implement a new computer system that includes audits and several layers of oversight and approval for spending.
The new system is called Munis. The $6.2 million contract awarded to Tyler Technologies will be executed over seven years. They are currently in phase one.
“This is a priority for our district leadership, this is a priority for our finance staff. Everyone is really taking it all hands on deck. We’ve got to get this done. Year end is approaching,” Tanner said.
Implementing that new computer system is delayed, however, which is creating problems for the finance department, school bookkeepers and principals.
State law requires all school districts to post transparency reports every month online. Those financial records must show any spending over $100.
As of last Friday, BCSD hadn’t posted those records since last October, more than six months ago. A message on the website said they hope to have them available by the end of March. We’ve been asking for copies for several weeks. That’s when the district explained the issues with the Munis implementation.
Richard Eckstrom is South Carolina’s Comptroller General, the state’s top accountant and fiscal watchdog.
“Those conversions can be very disruptive, especially if you run into a problem,” he pointed out.
Eckstrom says he is the one who pushed for spending transparency laws years ago.
“It’s the public money that’s being spent, so the public certainly has a right to know how it’s spent,” he said.
He’s also experienced computer conversions like the one BCSD is going through.
“I feel sorry for them because I know how difficult that can be,” Eckstrom said. “But at the same time, they’ve really got to get this one resolved fast.”
“The problem right now is being able to produce the transparency reports,” Tanner said. “The implementation of the new system and the delays that we’ve had… there’s been some challenges with reconciliation which is very important to actually produce those reports.”
“Reconciliation is like balancing your checkbook and making sure the bank’s statements match your own spending records,” Eckstrom said. “If I was a superintendent down there I’d be sweating bullets. Because they really would be in the dark if they couldn’t reconcile with the bank.”
He says his department noticed the reports weren’t being posted at the end of last year. They are acutely aware of the Thomas case, which the district described as the largest public embezzlement scandal in state history.
Today, we noticed the district did start posting reports a few hours before this story was set to air. A statement on the website said, “In order to remain transparent to our public, the district has provided a listing of all P-Card purchases and the accounts payable check register to provide what was typically provided in a single report. The district believes the combination of these two reports represents the totality of transactions but will supplement as needed.”
Tanner said no one from the Comptroller General’s Office has reached out the district.
Eckstrom told Live 5 that schools operate independently and with local control; his office posts links to school transparency spending reports as a courtesy but their job is overseeing county and city spending, not school districts.
Tanner said the financial department is not worried the district is overspending or underspending right now. “That information can be pulled for the banks. So you’re not overspending a bank account. It just has to do with the way information is being fed into the system.”
BCSD officials hope the issues will be resolved before the end of the school year.
“We are very interested [in releasing financial reports]. Our board is very interested. This is very important to everyone,” Tanner said.
The comptroller general pointed out that even though it’s the law for schools to post financial reports, there’s really no consequence if they don’t. He said legislators didn’t include what consequences a district should face for not complying.
Tyler Technologies officials released the following statement:
The implementation of Munis went live as scheduled by Berkeley County Schools but issues with coordination of a compatible file exchange with the district’s bank led to delays in the performance of bank reconciliation. The issue of the file exchange with the bank has been resolved and the district is now in the process of completing their reconciliations. Tyler has committed to continuing to work with Berkeley County Schools to clearly identify and assist in the resolution of any issues related to processes performed in Munis. With the district’s participation in issue resolution, Tyler expects they will be able to perform required reporting just as more than 450 other Munis school district clients do across the country.