By Andy Ann
On Tuesday, Jan. 10, and Jan. 17 the Colleton County School District (CCSD) school board meetings were held in the board room located at 500 Forest Circle to discuss some of the business of education.
During the meetings, a discussion was brought to the floor regarding the “board budget report” for the month of November. According to the report, some expenditures were made in 2022 for portrait pictures. Several of the board members voiced some questions and concerns regarding the purchases. Additionally, the “board budget report” stated that supplies for the school board were 409% over budget.
Reportedly, the board’s “school supply budget” covered the cost of the two portraits that are currently hanging on the wall in the board room. Approximately, $4,752 was spent on those pictures. School board member Daryl Erwin asked if any RFPs (Request For Proposal) or any bids were conducted before the purchases were made. CCSD personnel Ramona Barrett explained that a bid was not required for any expense that was $10,000 or under according to the “Procurement Code.” Erwin stated that it was discussed by the previous board in an open session that RFPs would be done.
Barrett stated the “Procurement Code” exemption used to be under the old code of $2,500 and required three quotes. With the new “Procurement Code” exemption, anything under $10,000 does not require quotes. For anything over $10,000 and under $25,000 requires three quotes. The new Procurement Code went into effect on July 1, 2022.
School board member Sharon Witkin stated it was assumed that when that policy for portraits was passed, it would go out for bid, and then have the expense planned as a line item. She said if it were the intent of the board to have the portraits done within this budget year, they would have added a line item.
Instead, it was placed on the school board’s budget under school supplies. Witkin said, “These are not school supplies.” Additionally, the expense was over budget. That one purchase was $4,752 and puts the board’s “school supplies budget” over 409%. She added, “Although there is nothing in the policy that states it needs to come before the board, it was not a part of the board’s budget and has now exceeded the budget.” The board’s previously budgeted amount was $1,000. This one purchase for the two portraits on display was $4,750.
Barrett explained that it is not the responsibility of the district finance department to obtain bids or quotes. It is the responsibility of each department to provide the finance department with information and bid amounts. Finance does not regulate how each department chooses to spend its monies, rather it is Finance’s responsibility to make sure the expenditures follow the “Procurement Code” and follow those regulations.
School board member Craig Stivender said, “It was specifically stated in public session by the previous board that there would be RFPs done for this. That there would be bids for this. When they (the board) voted for this policy, they said that we (the board) would accept bids and no bids were done. And we cut this check.”
Barrett said that each department normally handles its own bids and submits them to the finance department. Then the finance procurement person looks at it and puts it out for bids. If quotes are needed, each department brings its own quotes to Finance who in turn looks at the quotes to make sure it complies and put them out for bids.
Erwin pointed out that the board is not a “department” and wanted to know who submits bids for the board. Barrett stated that normally a board person does share the information with Finance for the board.
Stivender continued to press for who approved to purchase the portraits. Barrett explained that the board approved the policy for making purchases. Stivender wanted to know who gave the actual approval to purchase the active item of two pictures at $4,752. Cave stated, “I approved the purchase of the portraits. But the Board approved the policy.” She also stated, “I don’t have that understanding that there were to be RFPs, I can go back and look at the minutes. But if it’s under a certain amount, as she (Barrett) explained to you, we didn’t have to do the quotes. So that’s how that occurred.”
Stivender responded, “My concern is when a person looks at this and they see that “the board”, the seven of us sitting up here, went over 400% it clearly looks like we’ve mismanaged our little piece of the pie. And that’s not the case.” He also said, “I know, there’s nothing we can do about it at this point. I’m just very disappointed that it was approved to spend that much money on those two pictures.”
*Update from 01/17/23 meeting:
Stivender brought to the floor an expenditure regarding a large quantity of additional pictures with a purchase order for $10,000 that has been brought to his attention. He stated that on Feb. 15 of 2022, the chairman of the board stated that all purchases for the district must go through a procurement process when referring to this policy, regarding the purchase of these photos. He stated that on Nov. 4, 2022, there was a purchase order for $10,000 worth of photos. He asked, “Did that go through said procurement, which the board stated that it would?”
Barrett echoed a similar response as in the previous meeting of how each department must follow the “State Procurement Policy”, which was accepted by the previous board. Anything under $10,000 does not require quotes under the new policy that was adopted in July 2022. She said if the board needed quotes, then whoever the board secretary is will need to provide that to the board.
Stivender said, “I just felt like our citizens deserve better if we’re going to promise them something we should follow through with it. If we tell them we’re going to go through a procurement process to purchase $10,000 worth of photos, we should go through a procurement process.”
Stivender reported that the same company, Perfect Image Portrait Studio, was used to purchase $4,752 worth of photos. Then the same company was used for another $9,990 purchase. The two purchases combined equal $14,742, well over the $10,000 threshold. He questioned why the expenditures were broken down into separate purchases.
Barrett explained that in finance, they do not see the front end of purchases. She stated that the finance department’s job is to make sure that they follow state, local, and federal codes. She stated that at times they do not see things that come in until after it is done, and then all they can do is pay the bills.
Stivender questioned what funds the $9,990 come from for the purchase of the pictures. Barrett stated that the monies came out of the “Building Rental Fund.” Erwin wanted to know why that fund was used for the pictures. Barrett said, “It came out of the building rental fund because it’s hanging up in the building and is pertaining to the building.”
Stivender stated, “So everybody knows the reason why I have so much problem with approving to spend money for things when we’re asked, is because this district is robbing and frivolously wasting 10s of 1000s of dollars on things that are not necessary to educate our children.” He also said, “I’m going to continue to turn it (requests) down until we stop wasting the money that we have.”
More updates in the “Business of Education Series” will be provided in the next issue. For more information call 843-782-4510.
The Press and Standard will be presenting an educational series with a weekly column breaking down each of the department reports. While helping provide the minutes of the meeting as a source of information for the community.
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