The Michigan Department of Education is recommending another school district take over the financial and administrative responsibilities for the Great Start Readiness Program and Great Start Collaboratives in Barry County after an audit found “numerous internal financial control and noncompliance issues.”
Among the issues addressed in the audit — commingling of funds, hundreds of thousands of dollars in questionable and misclassified costs over the past two years, and large discrepancies between approved budgets and actual expenditures.
Major discrepancies were found in the budgets approved for salaries and benefits.
The audit shows of $655,617 budgeted year-to-date for salaries and benefits in the Great Start Readiness Program, the ledger shows just $627,934 has been spent, a difference of $27,683.
In the Great Start Collaborative, the differences are even larger. Of $149,945 approved year-to-date, the ledger shows just $ 50,635 has been paid, leaving an unaccounted difference of nearly $100,000.
Other findings include $129,059 in unallowable or questioned costs and $34,849 in misclassified costs.
“I'm very upset. I've worked here for four years,” said Shanon Everett, who was director of early childhood services for the Barry Intermediate School District. “I've worked very hard working with the children and families in this community, and it's very sad.”
Everett said she was let go due to a lack of funding.
State records show the Barry ISD received a $924,647 state grant for the Great Start Readiness Program this year. Everett said that money should last about a year, but after five months the funds were gone.
A letter sent to preschool staff in late May addressed the program’s uncertainty, saying funding levels were inadequate, but administrators were seeking options. The letter also served as a reasonable assurance of employment to staff members, that their jobs would be there next fall. That meant the staff couldn’t apply for unemployment benefits.
Shay Payne, an associate teacher with the Great Start Program, said after the audit’s findings, she’s not confident she’ll have a job in the fall.
“I do not feel like there is a reasonable assurance at all,” Payne said.
Payne was among staff members who called for Barry ISD Superintendent Rich Franklin to be removed from his job during a school board meeting Tuesday.
“I think we heard several times today that he didn’t know where the money was going, and if he’s overseeing the program, he should know where the money is going,” Payne said.
Franklin said he looks forward to continuing to lead the school district and he's confident there has been no mismanagement of money.
“We don't think there's any lack of control,” he said. “We can guarantee we've spent every penny we've been given for the program exactly as budgeted. So, we don't know where the office of Great Start is coming from in these items.”
Currently, Barry ISD is accepting applications for its early childhood program but not enrolling students.
The school district has until June 19 to appeal the Department of Education’s decision to reassign the early childhood programs to another school district.
Franklin said he's not sure yet if Barry ISD will appeal.