News: Quick Takes

Audit finds thousands in unauthorized spending from former Nash superintendent

State Auditor Beth Wood at a Local Government Commission meeting. (CJ file photo)
State Auditor Beth Wood at a Local Government Commission meeting. (CJ file photo)

State Auditor Beth Wood’s office found that Shelton Jeffries, the former superintendent of Nash County Public Schools, violated his contract and district procedures by ringing up $45,690 in questionable expenses during his three-plus years at the helm.

The school board said in a response to the audit, through its attorney, Tharrington Smith, that it would seek reimbursement from Jeffries for the questioned expenses, related to his procurement card and the use of a school system vehicle. 

“If the Board does not receive payment of this amount within 60 days following the date of our letter, it will report the matter to the district attorney for review,” Smith wrote.

Wood’s team found that Jeffries made 249 purchases totaling $22,045 with his procurement card that lacked adequate documentation to support a valid purpose related to school business.

Auditors also discovered that Jeffries submitted 104 receipts for a total of $19,362 for unauthorized travel expenses. Forty of the receipts exceeded approved per diem rates by a total of $7,127.

“The Superintendent stated that he received approval from the Board verbally or via email, but that he did not submit the required travel forms to document the approval,” the audit said. “However, the Superintendent did not provide any documentation to support that the approval occurred.”

Jeffries also made 33 fuel purchases totaling $3,015 in the Charlotte area, including in the town of Huntersville, where he lives. Auditors said he submitted these purchases as workshop or conference travel expenses. The superintendent claimed that the school system had no restrictions on in-state travel, but auditors wrote that “the School System’s policy required vehicles to be operated on official School System business only.”

The audit said that Jeffries’ violation of policies “fostered an environment where such violations are acceptable.” The examination further pointed a finger at a lack of oversight by board chairs, noting that in interviews with former board chairs they were unaware of their responsibility to review the superintendent’s expenses. Auditors also said the school system’s chief financial officer failed to provide proper oversight of the procurement card program. The unnamed CFO told auditors that “My job was on the line. I felt like if I went in and told him this needed board approval, he would find a way to get rid of me.”

It was only after a review of expenses in October 2018, after a board member expressed concerns about Jeffries’ expenses, that the questionable spending was uncovered. 

The response from the attorney Smith noted that his law firm investigated the questionable expenses and produced a report on April 1, 2019. Jeffries resigned Aug. 2, 2019.

Smith noted that the board tightened controls after the malfeasance was discovered, including reducing the procurement cards used within the school system from 20 to five. The current superintendent, Steven Ellis, doesn’t have access to a district vehicle or a procurement card.