Report cites problems in DeKalb Schools’ purchasing

In about-face, DeKalb Schools releases assessment that was withheld earlier

An assessment of the DeKalb County School District's purchasing and procurement practices says the district doesn't train employees or educate potential vendors, has not prioritized ethics and has had contracts signed by people without authority.

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Problems cited in a Dec. 14, 2018, memorandum include:

• No districtwide policy for purchasing and procurement

• Procurement-related policies have not been updated in several years.

• Purchasing department officials have not held training for district employees on procurement policies and processes.

• Potential vendors have not attended meetings on how to do business with the district in at least five years.

• Division chiefs have signed contracts on behalf of the district as the superintendent’s designee without any authority.

• A purchasing manual available on a district intranet site is outdated with information that does not match current policy and practice.

• Ethics and integrity have not been prioritized, and employees who manage procurement “have adopted systems that seem to work best for them.”

• Vendors are not consistently disclosing whether they have had relationships, personal or business, with the district or employees.

The assessment — by Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP, the district's legal counsel —  did not identify all staffers who were interviewed, saying some names were withheld to prevent retaliation.

DeKalb County Board of Education members voted Saturday during a school board retreat at Stone Mountain Park to make the document public, more than a month after reporters from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News requested it.

The board initially did not release the assessment, saying it was exempt because of attorney-client confidentiality.

Board chairman Michael Erwin did not respond to requests for comment on why the board reversed course, and district officials did not say why the documents were made public.

Credit: Emily Haney

Credit: Emily Haney

DeKalb County Board of Education member Stan Jester, who called for the document to be made public in January, said Saturday he was glad the district is working to address its procurement practices, and doing so publicly.

“This administration did not create this procurement process,” he said. “I’m glad to see we are going to publicly shine a light on procurement and work toward cleaning this up publicly. I have two big concerns — ethics, integrity and fiscal responsibility have not been a priority for the school district. The school district does not procure things properly. Procurement is a professional skill set. However, we give department employees a day’s training and ask them to do professional work.

“That would be like getting rid of IT and asking people to run their own networks and servers.”

John Jupin, a retired special agent with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of the Inspector General, told Channel 2 Action News the assessment was insufficient in its findings and suggested the district hire experienced fraud examiners for a real examination.

“I don’t think (Nelson Mullins) did a very good job,” he said. “Do they do a lot of fraud work? That’s the question. There’s fraud here. There’s problems here. There is no deep dive here. This is very broad, very general.”

In a statement emailed to The AJC, Superintendent Steve Green said the report is a starting point in strengthening the district’s purchasing and procurement procedures.

“The report is not the end, but the beginning,” Green said. “The report gives the district the opportunity to do an introspective view of its board policies, protocols and procedures, before major problems arise. Now that the report is complete, we are in the beginning stages of developing an action plan that will strengthen our current procurement processes.”