BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
Policies and procedures on bids came under strict review on Thursday during meetings of the Greene County Board of Education.
The review came as a reaction to the recently-released 2011-2012 audit of the Greene County School System by the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury.
In that audit, state auditors found the school system had a conflict of interest in spending funds to pay for work contracted to a business partly owned by County Commissioner Tim White.
The comptroller released the Greene County 2011-2012 Audit Report last Monday.
The incident in question occurred in early 2012, when the school system found A&W Farms Excavating & Hauling, LLC., to be the low bidder on sewer installation for the new Chuckey-Doak High School Fieldhouse.
White is co-owner of the business, a fact which is noted in the auditors' report.
In response, Director of Schools Dr. Vicki Kirk stated that the law is too ambiguous on the issue for auditors to make such a decisive finding in this particular situation.
But she also agreed that the school system needs to avoid all conflicts of interest.
As a result, Kirk said the system's Bid Committee will create a new procedure in which contractors must confirm that they do not have a conflict of interest.
In addition, board members Deborah Johnson and Kathy Austin read a proposed Bid Committee charter revision.
The revision proposes that the Bid Committee consider all school system bids exceeding a value of $5,000 rather than the current $10,000 minimum for the committee to become involved.
In addition, Johnson proposed an extensive checklist be required for each bid, including a target date for completion, a specifications review, a review of warranties and guarantees, and a post-project debriefing evaluation to encourage future improvements.
School Board Chairman Roger Jones asked that Kirk merge these recommendations with a current study the school system administration is undertaking to collect different procedures from across the state related to bidding, in order to make procedural improvements in Greene County's bid procedure.
MOSHEIM ROADWAY PROJECT
Moreover, Austin and Johnson expressed their concern about a bid quote for excavation work that is soon to begin for a roadway behind Mosheim Elementary School.
The board reviewed quotes for the project at a previous workshop. The quote from Bailey's Excavating came in at about $8,000, significantly lower than the remaining quotes, which were $14,000 and $16,000.
At the time, County Schools Maintenance Director David Myers explained that the significant difference in the quotes was the result of the low bidder's having only a one-man crew. In addition, Myers said that, in order to save money, the contractor no longer retained his state license.
Myers did, however, vouch for the contractor's work.
He also told the board that a state license is not required for jobs under $25,000.
Since this workshop discussion, the contract has been administratively awarded to Bailey's Excavating and a purchase order has been issued, Myers said on Thursday.
Austin expressed concern with this procedure in that the board did not have minutes from the workshop to reflect the board's final conclusion on the matter.
In addition, she said, current school board policy requires three bids for all projects -- not just quotes.
Dr. Kirk agreed that minutes should be taken in the future, and said that she would look further into the matter of whether the system needs quotes only or formal bids.
She added, however, that quotes are "the practice everywhere" for items under $10,000.
Johnson also objected that the project was not brought before the board for a vote on a bid.
"That was an administrative decision because it was under $10,000," Kirk replied. "I do it all the time."
Johnson also expressed her desire to see the system hire an independent auditing firm to audit the bidding process in order to avoid any future conflicts of interest.
"I know that Mr. [Bill] Moss is a county commissioner and his accounting firm does the auditing for the school accounting," she later added during the board meeting.
"I wouldn't want anybody to think that there's any conflict of interest anywhere in our system."
Moss has addressed this question in the past during meetings of the County Commission, explaining that he is retired from the local auditing firm of Rodeffer Moss & Co, PLLC, and, in his opinion, does not therefore have a conflict.
Johnson further suggested that the system hire an independent accounting firm for all the system's budgeting.
In other business, the board approved the implementation of five "career pathways," including:
* health and science;
* business and finance, and,
* educational and professional services.
These pathways were developed by a joint committee of the Greeneville and Greene County school systems through the Greene County Partnership Workforce Education Committee.
They are designed to restructure some high school curriculum and electives so that students can choose a career pathway and take courses to prepare for that career during their high school years.
The board also approved on second and final reading several policy manual revisions and recommendations from the Tennessee School Boards Association (TSBA), including:
* making it board policy to meet at 4:30 p.m. rather than 5 p.m. on months when the joint city/county school board meets;
* making it policy to retain e-rate records for five years after the date of service, a change which Dr. Kirk said places in writing practices already in place for audits;
* maintaining a competitive bid process while using the Universal Service Fund (e-rate) for locating service-providers; and,
* updating language related to federal job titles in the system's non-discrimination policy.
On first reading, the board approved TSBA-recommended changes, including:
* changes requiring at least one "armed intruder" drill per school year as part of the Emergency Preparedness Plan;
* title changes and changes to reflect state and federal laws in the In-Service and Professional Learning Opportunities policy; and,
* changes in the Compulsory Attendance Ages policy to reflect the new state law related to when a child must turn five years old in order to be enrolled in Kindergarten.
Dr. Kirk did agree to take the Emergency Preparedness Plan back to the Policy Committee for further revision because of concerns Johnson and Austin expressed with language declaring that it would be at the discretion of administration to keep students at school during a threat-to-safety situation.
The two members' concern centered on the idea that this could "take away parental rights."
Kirk said that this was not the intent and agreed to consider a change.
The vote on these revisions was then 6-1, with Johnson opposed.
Other approved policy changes included revisions or new forms for the following: Public Records Request, Pre-Approved Field Trips, Request for Student Record Correction, Medication at School, Permission for Medication, and Chronic Head Lice Letter.
Other items receiving the board's approval on Thursday were:
* a pilot program for a school-based clinic;
* a new concession stand at West Greene High School, funded by the WGHS Booster Club;
* bids on AEDs and buses;
* a boys soccer co-op between Chuckey-Doak High School and Greeneville High School;
* volunteer coaches for West Pines Elementary and C-DHS;
* out-of-state field trip requests;
* disposal of buses #29, #50, and mini-bus #013;
* a South Greene High School boys basketball Thanksgiving Tournament in the Bahamas;
* Baileyton Elementary Association's hosting an elementary/middle school softball tournament;
* a budget amendment for Title programs; and,
* alumni football at C-DHS.