Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Franklin County schools tighten expense system
Employees now must pay expenses up front, then be reimbursed.
The Franklin County School Board approved a new method Monday to pay for expenses that school officials incur while traveling.
Instead of charging travel, lodging and food expenses to a county-issued credit card, school officials must now pay out of pocket and submit forms for reimbursement.
For the past 10 months, county officials and residents have kept the school system's spending under a microscope after media reports on Superintendent Charles Lackey's credit-card expenses.
Between 2008 and mid-2010, Lackey charged about $33,000 on his school-issued credit card. Critics have taken issue with some of the purchases -- including $44 cheesecakes from a New York deli, almost $10,000 in meals and $100 in music downloads used as gifts to employees.
Lackey has said that each expense was warranted and the school board has found that none of the charges was improper.
The policy change is specifically for travel, meals and lodging, Lackey said, and no credit cards were taken away from school officials.
At least eight school system employees still have a county-issued credit card that can be used for other "limited" expenses, such as ordering banners to display at one of the county's schools, he said.
As before, school officials will receive a $35-a-day food allowance and mileage reimbursement of 44.5 cents per mile. The standard reimbursement rate for lodging is $70 a night. Any hotel that's more expensive will require preapproval, Lackey said.
According to the recommendation from Director of Business and Finance Lee Cheatham, officials have to submit receipts for meals, and carpooling and shared lodging will be required if more than one person from the system attends the same event.
Some school board members were concerned about the hardship this could cause for some employees who may not be able to afford the expenses upfront, but they thought it was the best option, Lackey said.
Though questions about the system's expenses have been ongoing, the board waited until July to change the policy, when it performs its annual review of policies.