published Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

Trion school board can't find missing $60,000, investigation closed

TRION, Ga. -- Trion City Schools officials closed their investigation without finding any answers into where up to $60,000 in after-school program money went.

The decision came on the heels of Monday night's school board meeting when outside auditor Beverly Smith said she couldn't prove where the money went because most parents didn't respond to inquiries.

Letters were sent to all 235 parents who had children in Trion City Schools' after-school program in the 2010-11 school year, but only 42 responded -- showing $6,596 had been paid during the year, the audit shows.

Officials hired Whittington, Jones & Rudert certified public accountants in October after they discovered the after-school care money possibly was missing and important documents that could have answered questions had been destroyed.

Police had encouraged the audit to establish if any criminal activity had occurred before opening an investigation.

Superintendent Phil Williams said without answers from the audit or the documents -- which were rosters parents signed when checking their child into the program -- the investigation can't go any further.

"It's almost like we're chasing ghosts," Williams said during the board meeting. "There's no documents we can turn to."

School Board Chairman Connie Witt, who retires at the end of the year, said she was concerned that school records had been destroyed.

But no board member offered any other solutions.

After the meeting, Williams said the investigation is closed unless further evidence emerges.

The probe was prompted in August when officials learned of a staggering drop in revenue from the after-school program, which charges families for providing supervision to schoolchildren from 2 to 6 p.m. Parents pay a rate based on how long students attend.

In recent years, the program generated between $50,000 and $60,000 annually. But two years ago, that revenue sank to $32,000, and last year it was about $27,000.

Also, officials can't find any records that show parents were billed for the last three months of the 2010-11 school year, Williams said.

After officials learned of the questionable funds, they said Kelly Blackmon, who was in charge of the after-school program, was fired.

While Williams said in a previous interview that Blackmon was fired in part because of questions about the program, he said that wasn't the only reason.

Trion police and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents said they were notified about the missing funds, but they said an outside audit had to prove the funds were missing and not caused by a drop in revenue.

Witt said she is disappointed that the audit didn't provide any answers.

"I don't know if there's any other answers," she said. "I don't know how to get to the bottom."

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.

about Joy Lukachick...

Joy Lukachick is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press Since 2009, she's covered breaking news, high-profile trials, stories of lost lives and of regained hope and done investigative work. Raised near the Bayou, Joy’s hometown is along the outskirts of Baton Rouge, La. She has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Louisiana State University. While at LSU, Joy was a staff writer for the Daily Reveille. When Joy isn't chasing ...

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