State Auditor Beth Wood released an audit report Tuesday about improper financial dealings by Shelton Jefferies, a former superintendent of Nash County Public Schools.
“The results of our investigation found that the former superintendent of Nash County Public Schools violated his contract and multiple policies and procedures related to his procurement card and use of a school system vehicle. These violations resulted in $45,690 in unallowed and questionable expenses,” Wood said in her summary of the report.
Jefferies resigned in August 2019 after an investigative report about his travel expenses was published by the Rocky Mount Telegram in April of that year. It now appears that an internal investigation of the issue began at the school board level at about the same time, which uncovered some of these improper dealings.
However, Wood said even more issues were revealed as the Office of the State Auditor conducted its own investigation.
After an investigation that took several weeks and included several requests to the school district about Jefferies’ travel and other expenses, the Telegram reported on April 28, 2019, that Jefferies traveled more than 29,000 miles in a fleet vehicle belonging to Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools in the 2017-18 fiscal year.
That was in comparison to 1,607 miles traveled in a fleet vehicle shared by the entire cabinet staff and 2,671 miles traveled in a fleet vehicle shared by the entire technology staff for the same year.
This also was in comparison with the 7,816 miles traveled by Jefferies in the fleet vehicle for the entire 2016-17 school year, indicating a change in pattern. After that, Jefferies’ mileage on the vehicle more than tripled each year.
In addition, Jefferies was paid a $600-a-month travel allowance during his time in office, the Telegram reported.
Jefferies’ travel miles escalated at roughly the same time he purchased a family home in Huntersville near Charlotte while he was serving as superintendent of what was then Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools. That information was published by the Telegram earlier in 2019 when Telegram reporters investigated how many local leaders were living in residences outside the Twin Counties.
In the investigative article written in April, the Telegram noted that driving the fleet vehicle to Huntersville each week could account for the extra 18,000 miles each year. However, no records provided by the school district were able to corroborate this travel pattern.
But the audit report released Tuesday indicates that the Office of the State Auditor was able to provide that link.
“The superintendent used his assigned school system vehicle for personal use. Specifically, the superintendent made 99 fuel purchases totaling $3,015 in the Charlotte metropolitan area, including purchases in Huntersville, North Carolina, which is the location of his personal residence. He submitted these fuel purchases as workshops or conference travel expenses,” the audit report states.
Though school district policies presented by the Telegram clearly stated that the use of the vehicle was to be only for school-related travel and was primarily for use within the county, Jefferies violated this usage, blaming the school district for its lack of oversight.
“The superintendent stated that the school system ‘did not track (vehicle) usage. (The school system) had no restrictions on in-state travel per the policy and administrative guidelines.’ He admitted to driving the school system vehicle to the Charlotte area to visit his children. However, the school system’s policy required vehicles to be operated on official school system business only,” Wood said in her report.
The audit report specifically states that Jefferies improperly used his procurement card to the tune of $22,045, violated the school system’s travel policy at a cost of $19,362 and used the school system’s vehicle for personal use at a cost of $3,015. He also made fuel purchases and rented a vehicle despite receiving a travel allowance, the report said. That added another $1,268 to the tally.
In the state audit report, Wood recommended that the school board seek recompense from Jefferies for the $45,690 in unallowed and questionable expenses.
“The board should seek reimbursement from the former superintendent for expenses that lacked adequate documentation or were unallowed by his contract, policies and procedures,” Wood said in the report.
In a letter released by Tharrington Smith, the law firm that represents the school board, the attorney of record stated that the school board intends to do just that.
“The board has instructed our firm to seek reimbursement from Dr. Jefferies for the $45,690 in improper expenditures identified by the state auditor (less any amounts Dr. Jefferies already reimbursed to the board). If the board does not receive payment of this amount within 60 days following the date of our letter, it will report the matter to the district attorney for review,” Attorney Lindsay Vance Smith said in the letter dated June 10.
Nash County Public Schools released a statement Tuesday following the publication of the audit report.
“The Nash Board of Education appreciates the Office of the State Auditor’s diligence in supporting the board’s work and ensuring that the board is a good steward of the funds with which it has been entrusted. To that end, the board has cooperated fully with the Office of the State Auditor throughout this investigation, takes very seriously all findings included in the report and is prepared to fully implement recommendations made by the State Auditor, including seeking reimbursement of any improper expenditures that occurred,” the statement said.
The audit reports did not lay the blame for the issue solely at Jefferies’ feet. In a future article, the Telegram will explore more details that came to light as a result of the state investigation.