Record-keeping issues delay DeKalb schools sales tax audit; cost hits $1M

The DeKalb County School District is conducting an audit of 10 years' worth of spending on capital projects — but the effort has been delayed and the cost has gone up since it got started more than a year ago. (Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

The DeKalb County School District is conducting an audit of 10 years' worth of spending on capital projects — but the effort has been delayed and the cost has gone up since it got started more than a year ago. (Jason Getz /

Auditors have been working for more than a year to evaluate how the DeKalb County School District has spent its sales tax funds. The cost of the project now tops $1 million, an increase tied to the district’s problems with record-keeping.

Voters in DeKalb have approved an additional penny sales tax every five years since 1997. The education special purpose local option sales tax, or E-SPLOST, funds capital improvements like new construction and technology upgrades.

Those capital projects have long been scrutinized in DeKalb, which has recently been characterized by the poor condition of school facilities.

Board member Anna Hill defended the E-SPLOST audit project, explaining the documentation issues were not discovered until the work began.

“I am grateful that this work is being done. We have a responsibility to the taxpayers,” she said. “If we go back to the public if we decide to ask for another SPLOST, we need to have all of this taken care of.”

Board member Anna Hill, shown during a DeKalb County Board of Education meeting last year, says the E-SPLOST audit was underway before the documentation issues became apparent. (Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

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Credit: Jason Getz /

Board members Joyce Morley and Vickie B. Turner questioned the unexpected cost associated with the audit. They suggested that either the company, Plante Moran PLLC, didn’t fully understand the scope of the project before submitting a bid, or the district didn’t fully disclose the scope — both of which would be a problem.

“I cannot go along with this,” Morley said, adding that asking for more money for projects that are already underway is a regular occurrence in DeKalb. “What in the world is going on? It doesn’t make any sense to me.”

The school board approved in December 2022 the hiring of an outside auditor to comb through spending from E-SPLOST IV and V — the 10-year period between 2012 and 2022. The tax brought the district more than $1 billion during that period of time.

The cost of the audit was $761,000. It was expected to be completed in summer 2023, but is ongoing. The board approved at a meeting Monday an additional $320,000 to finish the work.

Auditors and district staff have been able to locate about 60% of the records they need, Director of Audits and Compliance Joel Thibodeaux told the district’s audit committee last week. But older records were stored incorrectly, lost in moves, never digitized or destroyed sooner than they should have been due to confusion over retention schedules. The district’s lingering transition to a new software system for storing financial and human resource records caused more delays, as district staff members were sometimes unavailable to help locate the necessary records.

“These are things we could not have determined” before the audit began, Thibodeaux said Monday evening. “That’s why we’re here at this late hour asking for another $320,000 — because we had to do things we never assumed we would have to do in order to get to the records that needed to be audited.”

Superintendent Devon Horton said now and moving forward, records will be easily accessed through the district’s new software system called MUNIS.

The final audit report is expected in the coming months, Thibodeaux said.

In November 2022, the board also approved $877,000 for a different company to audit its spending of federal pandemic aid. It was also expected to be completed in summer 2023, but auditors have not yet finished.

Board approves settlement with ex-superintendent

The DeKalb school board also voted Monday to approve a settlement with former Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris.

The board fired her without cause in April 2022 after less than two years on the job. Per Watson-Harris’ contract, she was entitled to severance pay equal to a year’s salary.

The settlement the board approved is for $325,000, plus $16,000 in attorney’s fees, a district spokesperson said. Documentation of the settlement was not available Monday.