What in the world is going on in Dougherty? Spending $18,000 on a speaker? Officials lying for free lunches?

There has been a lot of attention on Atlanta schools in the wake of the CRCT cheating scandal, but the second bad actor in this drama, Dougherty County, has garnered less attention. One reason is location: Albany is far from the media center of Atlanta so there has been less press about the blatant cheating there on state exams.

But given what is now unfolding in Dougherty, it seems that close attention to this under performing and troubled school system is long overdue. In fact, this district seems a possible candidate for state takeover based on these breaking news stories.

According to the AJC, the state Department of Education has determined that the Dougherty County School District is not eligible to receive at least $10 million in federal funds because of concerns that the district has inflated the number of students who qualify for federal meal assistance. The agency also said the district has not properly overseen federal grant programs.

An incredible element of this story, reported by the Albany Herald, is that one of the questionable uses of federal money was the $18,000 paid to a motivational speaker for three appearances. That is $6,000 per appearance, an unbelievable expense for any school system in these hard budget times. Such extravagant expenditures undermine the arguments from schools that they need more money to function.

From the Albany Herald:

Two weeks ago, The Albany Herald obtained an email dated June 26 from GADOE Title Programs Division Director Margo DeLaune to DCSS Superintendent Joshua Murfree in which she wrote that “additional information and/or supporting documentation is needed for the items listed below that were paid with Title I, Part A monies.”

The 34 items in question ranged from $22 for emergency and registration cards to $91,000 for consulting fees paid to Darrell Sabbs and Associates.

All total, the state was seeking supporting documentation of more than $142,000 in Title I expenditures and gave the system until July 13 to respond to the request.

Delaune confirmed Tuesday she had received some documentation from the local system, but said she didn’t know at the time if it was all of the information requested by her office.

In addition to the Sabbs contract, the state was also seeing information on an $18,000 check cut to motivational speaker Joseph Washington for three appearances before students at Dougherty, Monroe and Albany high schools. “A motivational speaker is not an allowable Title I, Part A expense,” LeLaune wrote. “In addition, the cost of $6,000 per day appears not to follow the reasonable and necessary component of an allowable Title I, Part A expenditure.

“Please provide follow-up documentation to support the necessity of the cost and how this meets the compliance of academic interventions for Title I, Part A expenditures.”

The AJC further reports on the state DOE decision this week to withhold funds:

The department’s move is an extraordinary step, one no one at the department can recall being taken before. If a district is found to use federal funds in inappropriate ways, the state is responsible for paying the money back. “Our teams have been down there and worked with them and worked with them and worked with them,” Georgia Schools Superintendent John Barge said. “They’re not where they need to be.”

The district, which includes the southwestern Georgia town of Albany, has had its share of troubles in recent years. Investigations found that it and the Atlanta Public Schools system were major hubs for standardized test cheating in 2009.

The cheating investigation in Dougherty County also uncovered evidence that a principal in the district and her husband had falsely claimed that they were eligible for a free lunch program reserved for the poor. The couple was indicted, and similar charges were filed against Dougherty County School Board Member Velvet Riggins based on a tip to police, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has reported.

The governor removed Riggins from office earlier this month, according to the Albany Herald.

Losing $10 million for this school year would be a big blow for the district, whose operating budget is listed on its website as $114.8 million. The district could still receive the money if it complies with federal documentation requirements and clears up questions about the number of students who are eligible for federal meal assistance.

Hearing about possible misuse of the federal meal assistance program in Dougherty, the Georgia Department of Education attempted to investigate it in late May, state documents show. Department officials, however, were denied access to program records when they visited the district, according to a letter the department wrote to Dougherty Schools Superintendent Joshua Murfree Jr.

The state warned Dougherty in that letter that it could place a hold on all federal funds that are distributed to districts based on the number of students who qualify for federal meal assistance.

In addition to questions about how many Dougherty students actually qualify for federal meal assistance, state officials also had concerns about the district’s oversight of other federal grant programs.

Dougherty receives money from the federal School Improvement Grant program, from a program created to assist homeless students and from the Race to the Top program.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

103 comments Add your comment

skipper

July 20th, 2012
11:16 am

Maureen,
I remember you wrote about this system some time back. All I can say is that the right to vote does not mean the ability to do so. This is a corrupt, underperforming area and if one says anything, the race card comes out for sure! However, from the board down there is so much incompetence and a fear of breaking the politically-correct conversation (a la Dekalb) that the cluster down in Albany will not get better. And yes (sorry) demographics ARE a contributor. Past injustices, bad as they were, have given way to something dog-gone near as bad. Sheer stupidity, lack of knowledge, and worse cronyism than old-time Chicago. folks will hate me back on this blog, but look at it! It is what it is…………………

catlady

July 20th, 2012
11:19 am

To whom in the system was that “motivational” speaker related?

And how, exactly, could the school system deny examination of its materials to the state government officials?

You are right, this system should go down. The state could not make a bigger mess of this than those folks in Albany.

Aquagirl

July 20th, 2012
11:24 am

Please tell me someone can go to jail for this.

elephant in the room

July 20th, 2012
11:41 am

Be careful folks – if you say too much about Albany, you will be branded racist !

BehindEnemyLines

July 20th, 2012
11:44 am

Would be interesting to discover what other systems have paid the same speaker.

Dunwoody Mom

July 20th, 2012
11:46 am

I read the article about Dougherty County last night. If this ever was a school system that needs state intervention this is it. Governor Deal has removed one School Board Member, but it appears that a whole new administration and BOE is needed.

Bob White

July 20th, 2012
11:57 am

The school board is only the tip of the iceberg. If you do a little more investigation on other Dougherty government entities there is no telling what will be found!

NW GA Math/Science Teacher

July 20th, 2012
11:59 am

While Dougherty’s misuse seems extreme, there are more systemic abuses going on all over. Many of you would probably be quite interested to see what your own districts spend on “consultants”. There’s a similar article in the Chattanooga paper today: http://timesfreepress.com/news/2012/jul/20/27500-consultant-fee-raises-concerns-on/?local

Current HS Teacher

July 20th, 2012
12:05 pm

Red flags should be recognized when public institutions are challenged on the spending of public funds and any sort of obstacle is placed in the way of open investigation.

The state has watchdog agencies in place to monitor activites that are not in line with the normal operations of a public organization. School systems are not exempted from this scrutiny. Auditors from the state of Georgia are in most school systems’ BOE offices on a weekly basis.

When the public employees, whatever their status or position level, impede an investigation, the simple fact is that something wrong is being discovered and the guilty are trying to hide their tracks.

Due process assumes that someone is innocent until proven guilty, but the public employees are also under burden to not hinder an investigation. At any time, when the least bit of obstruction turns up, there is a reason for the obstruction. Guilty people will attempt to hide their guilty acts.

School systems are large local organizations with large budgets and many opportunities are available for suspicious financial transactions.

School systems are often receiving funds from multiple government agencies, with those funds specifcally targeted. Questions arise routinely about whether money was spent in the intended manner. It is normal to have to explain something, and many times the school system’s explanation is accepted. When an explanation is not forthcoming, or resisted then the auditors will see this as a probable case of mispent funds and investigate as such.

The questions raised in the story lead to the assumption that they are symptons of something much bigger.

DettafromATL

July 20th, 2012
12:05 pm

As an African American I’m concerned with the misappropriations of funds that should be used to feed needy children not greedy school administrators. If the school system refuses to comply with the GADOE request to view records or produce documentations then funds to the school district should be withheld until the district complies with the request.

As for race–our children’s education is more important than the race card.

The Deacon

July 20th, 2012
12:17 pm

In private industry, we are required to verify income. The client signs a tax form authorizing our company to check the client’s tax filings. Two things occur, if the client has NOT filed their returns or is delinquent in their taxes they do are not allowed to proceed. The other is their income is verified and we proceed. Why can’t all school systems require parents who apply for federal meal assistance for their children be required to sign a 4506-T tax form for verification purposes? Solution!
Maureen,
Did the principal in Dougherty County who falsified her application get fired? Or was that federal crime not enough to get rid of her?

The Deacon

Hillbilly D

July 20th, 2012
12:19 pm

Motivational speaking has got to be one of the best rackets in the world. $18K for a pep talk; nice gig if you can get it, I guess. Of course, if folks want to pay for a motivational speaker for themselves, that’s their business but it seems like a waste of tax money, especially in a time when some educators say they need more money.

Tonya C.

July 20th, 2012
12:30 pm

The Deacon:

A tax return is not the most up-to-date financial document for many. In addition, not everyone is required to file one. Add to that undocumented aliens, and the ACLU would be knocking down the doors with a lawsuit before anyone could blink.

I’m not disagreeing with you, just giving the other side.

Hillbilly D

July 20th, 2012
12:33 pm

The Deacon

What industry are you talking about? I’m a little confused. Not trying to be a smart aleck, just curious.

HP

July 20th, 2012
12:34 pm

Hmm. Shady. My local elementary school got a high-profile motivational speaker for a parent event FOR FREE. This “speaker” was related to someone and this needs to be investigated.

MB

July 20th, 2012
12:43 pm

We will HOPE that a majority of Dougherty citizens feel the same way you do, Detta, but, as alluded to before, there is a VERY different culture in Albany. The wheels of justice have moved slowly in this case and she continued as a school board member throughout the year. SAD!

Riggins was charged December 9th. The special prosecutor (Circuit DA) reported on January 14th that he had still not received the police report from DCSS. She was indicted in April, after a delay in appearing before the grand jury, DA filed the report with the governor’s office on May 4th and she was removed from her office on July 12th.

BTW, her mother, Muarlene Edwards, a Dougherty County commissioner, is leaving that post at the end of the year because she is running for state representative.

The trials for the three are supposed to be in September, but given the pace so far..

Reality_Check

July 20th, 2012
12:48 pm

I have relatives who live in the Albany area, according to them, that school system is probably the most corrupt in the state (DeKalb is nowhere close). Governor Deal should clean house and have that system run by the state.

skipper

July 20th, 2012
12:58 pm

@Reality_Check,
I, too, have folks down there and they echo your sentiments. If this state keeps worrying about political correctness and does not just handle the dad-gum business at hand down there then we are doomed to letting the IDIOTS (and this school system has earned that moniker) run the show. What in the world does it take to realize that this cesspool of an education system needs total FORCED revamping. When the board members are dumber than a sack of rocks, the system is broken. However, they do have one good point; the people who VOTED for them haven proven to be even more ignorant!

MB

July 20th, 2012
1:02 pm

@Maureen Here’s an idea for a new investigation for the AJC: free/reduced lunch and TItle I. If TItle I designation of a school is based on the percentage of free/reduced lunch status students AND the government limits verification of applications for free/reduced to more or less than 3%, is this not RIPE for abuse? The free lunches are not the real issue, IMO, as we all know children learn better when fed. The access to all the use-it-or-lose-it Title I funds, for which we frequently hear complaints about trips to CA, huge “learning” programs of questionable value, etc., seems to be very problematic. Here’s a first link for you – the Federal Register document on verification of eligibility which shows how situations such as Dougherty can exist. http://www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/governance/interim/2008verifrule.pdf

MB

July 20th, 2012
1:07 pm

My parents’ south Georgia cable system changed recently and axed the Atlanta area TV stations, so they now have seven channels with Albany news. No Savannah, no Jacksonville, no Macon, just the Albany perspective on the news. It is REALLY BAD there!

no great choice

July 20th, 2012
1:20 pm

MB
One of the Clayton County School Board members who was forced to leave her position on the Board of Ed was then elected to the State House of Representatives. I am sorry, but sometimes I think people deserve the crummy governments that they have. What a joke.

Outside Observer

July 20th, 2012
1:30 pm

Albany has always done things it’s own way. They host the girls’ high school state track and field meet every year there. Last time I was there a couple years ago, they had everyone in the stadium bow their heads and pray to Jesus Christ as someone led a stadium wide prayer. You had Muslim, Jewish, and I’m sure other faiths there. Seperation of Church and State was just a funny concept to them I suppose…
One of the most backward and poor areas I have seen in Georgia and that’s saying something.

Don H.

July 20th, 2012
1:37 pm

Dougherty has a largely black electorate (60%) that holds its elected officials to different standards than those of modern democracies. We see the same behavior, repeated endlessly, in similar communities nationwide and indeed worldwide.

And yes, the “motivational speaker” paid all that taxpayer money is African-American.

Tim

July 20th, 2012
2:02 pm

what an embarrassment. Yank their funding, destroy the district, and please please send some of these mooching losers to jail. You would have to be an idiot to want to live there but at this point you get what you deserve. Just pathetic.

skipper

July 20th, 2012
2:04 pm

Don H.,
Congrats! The elephant in the room! I realize that blacks suffered many injustices in the past, but along with rights comes responsibility. This is the kind of thing that makes racism live on….the fact that most (don’t take my word for it; do your homework) black areas like this (yeah I know, there are white areas, too, but not nearly the number) just flat cannot govern themselves. People hate it and defend their views stringently but this is a fact that nobody will discuss. All we here about is Travon, and Al and Jesse lead the pack. But neither will show up in Chicago where the killing goes on everyday, and if they came to Albany, they would say “discrimination” instead of trying to solve the problem. They holler about the terrible education system underserving blacks. But yet, these incompetents in Albany would be defended and someone else blamed if you could ever get them to show up there, where the TRUE racial problems are! Amazing….folks fight so hard (and correctly so) for rights, then let mess like this happen, and wonder why people question it!

Down in Albany

July 20th, 2012
2:08 pm

Maureen, I’m glad that you are covering this fiasco. (We now call it “Agony in Dirty County.”) There is so much corruption here that it is pathetic. The school board, for some unknown reason, hired #34 of 37 candidates as our superintendent. He has NO high school administrative experience and is incompetent. He recently told the school resource officer to not arrest any students without his prior consent. He all but threatened teachers and principals with their jobs if they cooperated with the CRCT investigators. Apparently, he has been less than cooperative with the DOE. Two administrators have been arrested and charged with falsifying free meal applications. One was a principal that makes over $90k per year! Along with the $18,000 paid for a motivational speaker, a local “consultant” was paid $91,000 (for the year) for a weekend school to help kids with reading. A grand total of 10 students, on average, attended. In recent news, the Albany police department has an officer that has wrecked 6 patrol cars and is still reeking havoc on its citizens. He was involved in a high speed chase that left 2 people dead and is still on the force! At the recent 4th of July fireworks celebration, a group of “wilding” teenagers disrupted the festivities to the point that police cleared the area and everyone missed the finale. That with 90 officers patrolling the event. And, of course, we have Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital (whose CEO makes $1.2 million per year) that is raping the local citizenry with their “world class medicine, home town commitment.” They recently bought out the local HCA hospital and thereby established a monopoly on healthcare. But, when 60% of the citizens vote strictly along racial lines, you get what you get…as long as someone is sticking it “to The man” it’s ok with them. I have one more child in school (he attends a private school here). As soon as he graduates, we are leaving this excrement filled town.

MB

July 20th, 2012
2:09 pm

@No great choice It is so sad. How about this idea? We’re all talking about bringing technology into our schools – how about technology into our voting? Voting booths are set up so that you actually have to KNOW something about a candidate to vote for them. No Rs or Ds by the names and you have to answer a couple of questions about their platform correctly to vote for them. Voting booths are still open and using a cheat sheet to vote for the people your minister or local talk show host supports gets your vote kicked out. Whatcha think?

@Outside In my hometown, a guy ran and was elected with the major promise to bring prayer back to the football games. (School board attorney keeps telling him they can’t bring that lawsuit on them, but he’s up for re-election.) Oh, he told another school board member to take it out in the parking lot and punched him. (Fist Christianity, in other words.) Another school board member has a GED. Again, it’s bad out there!

dARRIEN

July 20th, 2012
2:25 pm

Look, when you have been raised all your life on government hand outs and not having to worry about where money comes from, you don’t hesitate to pay a friend $18,000.00 to speak to three groups of kids. I hate it the Kennedy’s, JOhnson and others are not alive to see the results from their “welfare programs back in the 60’s” and what the results look like. It is not just DCSS, it is teh city of Albany as well as Dougherty County We don’t even shop Albany anymore.

Lee

July 20th, 2012
2:26 pm

Former Get Schooled blogger, the late JimD, used to call for school systems to post their checkbook registers online so that all could see what they were spending money on. Good idea, IMHO. If they had, someone would have surely picked up on the the first payment to the motivational speaker and may have prevented payments #2 and #3.

But no, these folks in the central offices want to keep their transactions behind closed doors…

… and this is the result.

skipper

July 20th, 2012
2:28 pm

Maureem,
What is your true take….I know you are not racist, but you gotta see situations like this for what they are…………………..ever been to Albany? See for youself!

skipper

July 20th, 2012
2:29 pm

Sorry, that Maureen, not Maureem….my bad!

dudecrush

July 20th, 2012
2:29 pm

I love the way people who have never lived in, visited, and otherwise know nothing about a place can write (or copy and paste rather) such detailed drivel. The “corruption” in our school system happened YEARS ago under superintendent Sally Whatley (white), but was never mentioned or investigated (though she was “lucky” enough to retire just about the time investigations were announced). Since our current superintendent, Joshua Murfree Jr (black), was installed the blame has been placed squarely on his shoulders, despite his efforts to root out corruption, and correct a broken system. I know Republicans love a good witch hunt and absolutely deplore facts, but look at the numbers from raw Deal’s own CRCT investigation report!

http://www.gaosa.org/

The corruption you people speak of is almost non-existent in our school system now, and as far as the free lunch thing it was TWO people! That, to me, does not scream widespread corruption.

Lee

July 20th, 2012
2:34 pm

I don’t know if this is the same guy, but here is a link to Joseph Washington: http://www.josephbwashington.com/

I’ve been to company meetings where we had a motivational speaker. While some have some good messages, most are little more than snake oil salemen in three piece suits.

…. and none are what I would want my hard earned tax money to pay for….

Don H.

July 20th, 2012
2:45 pm

@dudecrush:

Mr. Murfree’s school district bio says he assumed his post in June, 2010. He’s in other words had more than enough time to make a real difference—or to go down trying.

Don H.

July 20th, 2012
2:50 pm

@dudecrush:

Mr. Murfree’s school district bio says he assumed his post in June, 2010. He’s in other words had more than enough time to make a real difference—or to go down trying.

C Jae of EAV

July 20th, 2012
2:56 pm

There is no question that Doughery County’s location within the state contributes a great deal to the fact activities in questions are going with limited fanfare in and around the gold dome all the way up state.

Equally there is little doubt that what-ever questionable pratices that are being uncovered there in large part are in play within the larger districts across the state as well.

Alas because there isn’t a big press conference moment to be had by jumping in with both feet in this situation we will likely see a limited responce if any from Gov Purdue or the GA DOE.

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Georgians for Educational Excellence

July 20th, 2012
3:00 pm

“The love of money is the root of all evil.”

In Mammon, money is loved above all else. There it’s MOE: “Money Over Everything.”

But John Barge’s GDOE is not Mammon.

KUDOS to John for taking the courageous action of impounding DCBOE-designated funds.

[...] of educational failures, Doughtery County is the poster child. And more on DeKalb BOE’s budget woes and how hard it is to find [...]

williebkind

July 20th, 2012
3:20 pm

But Maureen this are college educated people! All you need is a college degree and the system will pay you huge bucks, retirement, healthcare, annual leave, sick leave, and a bonus. Yep those college educated minds saw how those college educated minds operated at the GSA level and said we are college graduates too. Oh by the way college educated minds have the country in 16T in debt also. If we just would spend more on college education. Especially in educatin degrees.

William Casey

July 20th, 2012
3:20 pm

This sounds very similar to the “Reconstruction State Governments,” 1865-1876. Wherever there is a political vacuum, one can rest assured that political corruption will soon flood in. I’ve long looked with jaundiced eye at outside “motivational” speakers, expensive or otherwise.

williebkind

July 20th, 2012
3:21 pm

Sorry about the typos and misspelling but I was excited.

williebkind

July 20th, 2012
3:22 pm

William Casey

July 20th, 2012
3:20 pm
We called them carpent baggers!

DettafromATL

July 20th, 2012
3:23 pm

It would be refreshing to discuss the issue of administrators and policitians misappropriating school funds and politicial misconduct without bringing up the issue of race…but, I guess in Georgiaf that would be asking too much to ask!

Fred in DeKalb

July 20th, 2012
3:37 pm

What was done was wrong, regardless of the color of the individuals involved. I won’t paint a broad brush like some here like to do and suggest that Colorado is home the place for mass murderers to go (may the souls of those hurt by the recent tragedy rest in peace). Bad people come in all races.

Thanks to dudecrush for providing some historical perspective in Albany. Many on DSW want to believe the growth in the DeKalb Central office occurred in the last 10 years. It actually began in the mid 90’s under Freeman. One superintendent attempted to restructure it along with providing greater instructional equity throughout the district (Brown). He began questioning sacred cows such as small schools that have existed for years and weren’t efficient to operate. They turned on him. Seems that some can talk a good game of change as long as it does not impact their slice of the world.

Down in Albany

July 20th, 2012
3:37 pm

Dudecrush, you are an idiot!

williebkind

July 20th, 2012
3:38 pm

DettafromATL:

Taxpayers money is for everyone running the government regardless of race, sex, etc.

williebkind

July 20th, 2012
3:41 pm

dudecrush:

How many Albany State graduates work in the system. Then google the trials and tribulations of Albany State.

GatorJohnson

July 20th, 2012
3:44 pm

Psssst: AJC, if you’re down in the Albany area do a little snooping around the Baker County schools system….

skipper

July 20th, 2012
3:50 pm

Detta,
Race IS a problem. By no means is racisom limited to one side or the other, and poverty does contribute. However, in many majority black districts where schools were finally forced to desegregate in 1970, the boards, etc. became majority black. Education and competence were given minimal attention, and as long as the majority ruled, all was well. The fact that there was blatant mistreatment previously (and there was) did not mean an unqualified person should be elected. See Warren County, Hancock County, etc. Yes, poverty is contributory, but incompetent people voted into office will NEVER solve the problem. That is NOT saying blacks are incompetant; that is saying that in these instances, there apparantly was no pre-requisite for being on a board other than being black. And yes,dudecrush, I HAVE been to “Slappeyville”. People can vehemently defend anything. But if you think that school system is happening, please feel free sell snake oil.

Good ole Boys at the Gold Dome

July 20th, 2012
3:50 pm

Since my wife and friends are from this area;I do have a little in-sight into what is the culture and background of Albany and surrounding area.First they are some very good and intelligent people in this area.Both Black and White have bad apples.Yes, the demos changed in the 90’s in this area and a large number of familes and income moved to Lee County.But do not blame this on the race issue.Look at Miller County Board of Education.See what Gov. Deal did to them because of mismanagement and total disfunctional Board.The Miller County Board is a majority White and talk and act like it is 1930’s or 40’s.Miller County is only 30 to 35 miles from Albany. Again,there are some very honest and nice people in this area,but like other areas in this state; WE ALL have our problems.Hopefully,the state will improve in education for everyone regardless of the location.