Lee Schools overhaul purchasing rules

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Lee County school employees have new rules to follow when purchasing items with school district funds.
The district has been reviewing its purchasing and inventory guidelines in the wake of April’s arrest of then-business manager Randy Thweatt on embezzlement charges.
Interim business manager Bobbie Sparks wrote procedures to be distributed throughout the district and is working with principals and school bookkeepers to make sure they are understood. Central office began following the new guidelines during the summer. They went into effect for schools at the beginning of this month.
Although many of the written practices were already being followed, the district did not previously have written guidelines in place, Superintendent Jimmy Weeks said.
“Some of the processes needed to be more fine-tuned,” Sparks said.
Thweatt has since retired from the district. He has not yet stood trial after being indicted for allegedly embezzling a 2006 Ford Ranger pickup truck and a district-owned air-conditioning unit.
Sparks, a former business manager for Corinth and Tishomingo County Schools, based the new written procedures upon guidelines provided to school districts by the state auditor’s office.
“Some of the procedures were not being followed exactly the way they are supposed to be,” Weeks said. “Now there is greater emphasis.”
Among the biggest changes are that multiple people have to approve purchases and purchases must be tracked more closely.
A district employee must sign invoices confirming that all purchased items were received. That person must be different than the one who placed the order.
Also, items may not be bought until the district or school assigns a purchase order number. That number must be recorded on the invoice and kept with the district’s record of the purchase.
“The district has to account for every dollar we spend and every purchase order,” Weeks said. “By having the purchase order number on invoices, it makes accounting much easier.”
The district’s changes remain ongoing, Weeks said. Last month, it brought in a consultant, Suzanne Smith, to review its practices. Smith, a retired school business manager from Meridian, has also worked with the state auditor and now consults for the Mississippi Department of Education. She will suggest possible tweaks.
“It is an ongoing process,” Sparks said.
Lee County transportation director Ralph Capps has also been on unpaid administrative leave since Thweatt’s arrest. No charges have been brought against Capps. Judy Hill has served as interim transportation director.
The School Board also voted in April to restrict the number of district employees allowed to drive district-owned vehicles home to three high school principals, four district-level maintenance workers and three bus shop mechanics.
Previously, 23 employees drove district-owned vehicles home. The other 13 cars are now secured on campuses overnight.

Click video to hear audio