State investigators have found multiple “deficiencies” in the Cheatham County Board of Education Nutrition Department in recent years, according to recently released audit documents.
According to the Oct. 24 investigation report by the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury, the nutrition department overcharged the National School Lunch Program more than $13,000 for after-school snacks and did not reconcile the inventory.
It also found that the Board of Education didn’t follow purchasing procedures for more than $1,300 in credit card purchases and didn’t have a written policy or keep control of the nutrition department’s cards.
Cheatham County Schools contacted the Comptroller of the Treasury’s office on June 29 about “suspected discrepancies” in the program, the report states.
Cheatham County Schools participates in the National School Breakfast and Lunch Programs, which offer free or reduced-cost meals to students whose families meet the income criteria. The Tennessee Department of Education administers the U.S. Department of Agriculture programs.
According to the investigation’s findings, the school nutrition department submitted claims to cover snacks based on enrollment rather than for snacks that would be served to students, which caused the overcharge of at least $13,842.42 for more than 16,000 snacks total.
Federal law states that reimbursement is limited to one snack per child each day. The audit found excess attendance claims in its examination of the after-school program Cheatham Achievers at Cheatham Middle, Harpeth Middle and Sycamore Middle during fiscal years 2016 and 2017.
Sycamore Middle didn’t even have a program in 2017, though it was the highest overcharging in 2016 at more than $4,300.
Cheatham County Schools spokesman Tim Adkins said in an email that the district does not have a final determination whether the nutrition department will be required to pay back the funds. It is also unclear whether the findings will impact future funding.
According to the report, investigators either were not provided with attendance records or could not determine a reliable attendance number from records provided for other programs.
The Cheatham County Board of Education didn’t have a written policy in place regarding the nutrition department’s credit cards. Those cards were maintained by the director and the assistant director of the nutrition department until the beginning of the state’s investigative work, rather than the Board of Education’s finance department.
Cards could have been used for travel purposes and for conferences under an “informal unwritten policy” the finance department used, the report states. “Without a written credit card policy, employees have no limitations on their credit card purchases.”
Furthermore, the director of the nutrition department maintained Walmart and bank credit cards that totaled $1,350.29 that were not properly approved or documented.
Melanie Smiley, the previous director, retired effective Oct. 2 after nearly four decades of service.
The new director, Tracy Wright, will start Nov. 27.
Adkins said in an email that Smiley’s decision to retire was her own, and the district cannot speculate on the reason.
Smiley could not be reached for comment. .
Director of Schools Cathy Beck stated in the Comptroller of the Treasury’s office’s report that “we accept this finding” and briefly described changes to avoid the problems.
“The district will have its Business Services director verify certain financial reports on behalf of the department and ensure that the School Nutrition director understands and follows the district’s policy already in place regarding procedures on credit card purchases,” a school district statement reads.
“By implementing these internal controls, an effective checks and balances system will be in place to ensure that the district is in compliance with all financial reporting and accounting practices.”
Kelly Fisher, reporter for the Ashland City Times, can be reached at KPFisher@gannett.com, 615-801-3866 or on Twitter at @KellyPFisher.
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