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Bibb School Audit Faults Handling of 'Promise' Program | Schools

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Bibb School Audit Faults Handling of 'Promise' Program
Schools

Bibb County school officials bypassed the Board of Education when they committed millions of dollars to the Promise Neighborhood Program.

The school board didn't find out about two important agreements until long after they were signed. 

And months after the district agreed to pay millions to rent a former school, district officials admitted they had not been able to fix a fair-market value for the building.

Those are some of the findings in a school district audit by the accounting firm Mauldin & Jenkins. They are scheduled to make a presentation to the Bibb County Board of Education on the entire audit Thursday night.

A five-page section of that audit covers the district's involvement in the Promise Neighborhood program. That's the federally funded program that aims to improve student achievement through a neighborhood-wide approach -- from prenatal care to job placement.

Part of the Macon program includes development of an adult-education center at the former Ballard-Hudson Middle School on Anthony Road.

In a whistleblower lawsuit, former Bibb schools Chief Financial Officer Ron Collier says he was removed from his job and demoted because he raised questions about a $1 million payment connected to the Ballard-Hudson project.

RELATED | 'Whistleblower' Lawsuit Centers Around $1M Check

The district signed an agreement in July 2012 that committed hundreds of thousands of dollars each year for the next 10 years to support the Promise Neighborhood program.

The next week, district officials signed a lease calling for them to pay more than $5.7 million to rent the Ballard Hudson School for the next 10 years. At the lend of the lease, the district has the option to buy the building.

But the audit says those documents were not shared with the school board until Oct. 18, three months later.

The school board should have acted on both before they were signed -- not later  -- the auditors said.

The audit also says the district's current budget must show how it will fund the Promise Neighborhood program. But so far, it doesn't.

And it says that money should not be spent on the program until the school board approves.

The audit also raised accounting questions about the Ballard-Hudson lease.

The auditors said that may qualify as a capital lease.

And that means school officials would have to add the eventual purchase cost -- nearly $6 million dollars -- to their current budget.

The audit says they tried to raise that question back in October but got passed from School board chairman Tommy Barnes to Superintendent Romain Dallemand to the district's lawyers without getting a response.

The district's lawyers expressed concerns that the district had not been able to set a fair market value for the property, according to the audit.

Property records show the old Ballard-Hudson building was purchased for $220,000 in June 2009 a group called Central Georgia Partnership for Individual & Community Development that is led by Jimmie Samuels, head of the Macon-Bibb Economic Opportunity Council.

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