Bank fund of Bradford school head questioned


Published: Saturday, March 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, March 1, 2003 at 12:32 a.m.

The Bradford County School Board is awaiting word from the governor and State Attorney's Office on what to do about the possible misuse of funds by Schools Superintendent Buddy Paterson.

According to a report released this week by the Florida Auditor General, Paterson set up an account on June 28, 2001, at the Florida Credit Union in violation of Florida law.

Disbursements totaling $2,800 that cannot be accounted for and deposits totaling $3,625 were made on the account through July 8, 2002, when the account was closed after being discovered by district Finance Director Julee Tinsler.

"We've turned it over to a higher authority and we don't want to overstep our bounds," said Bradford County School Board Chairman Randy Jones. "It will be up to the governor's office to see if there was any misfeasance or malfeasance. Whatever steps the state attorneys office says we need to do is what we will abide with."

In his written response to the findings, Paterson said, "Even though all of the funds were spent on behalf of the Bradford County School District, the Superintendent is willing to reimburse the District for any amount that can not be accounted for."

Paterson did not return phone calls left at his office Friday afternoon.

According to the report, Paterson established the fund at the bank, which was not approved to accept School Board funds as outlined by Florida law; checks written on the account were signed by a district employee rather than the board chairman; and the fund was set up outside the control of the district and money spent at the discretion of the superintendent, all in violation of Florida law.

Records show that deposits included $1,800 from a business for using a school sewer system; $300 from a church for rental of district facilities; $275 from individuals and a business for a district reading program (Florida Reading Initiative); $200 from an individual as a donation; $500 from the district's high school class ring and graduation services representative with the notation "Contribution -- Advertising"; $500 from an individual with no notation on the check and $50 from a construction firm that was subsequently awarded a construction management contract.

Auditors also found that no accounting records were maintained for the special account and that two checks were written in excess of available funds and were not paid by the credit union because of nonsufficient funds, for which the credit union deducted $195.

It was not apparent whether the disbursements served an authorized district purpose, the report found.

For example, 10 checks totaling $1,163.35 were written to local restaurants and grocery stores; two checks totaling $350 were written to "Cash"; one check for $1,350 was written to an individual; and one check for $55 was written to the superintendent, the report said.

The auditors recommended that district officials continue to analyze the transactions to determine if they were made to serve an authorized district purpose "pursuant to State law and Board policies and procedures. For those disbursements not serving a District purpose, we recommend that the Board require reimbursement from the Superintendent," auditors wrote.

In his response, Paterson said monies from various sources such as rental fees, donations and payments from the Lawtey Shell Station were placed into the account and that funds were spent for various items including a public relations person for the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, refreshments for Florida Reading Initiative related meetings, door prizes for the reading initiative meeting and bottled water for the superintendent's office.

Former Superintendent Russell Larramore said he was aware that a long-standing agreement between the Lawtey Shell Station and the School Board existed, but was not aware of any payments received for service.

"The agreement for the station to use the sewer system went back for some years, but I don't know exactly how far back it went," said Larramore, who left office in November 2000. "I'm not aware of the financial part of it simply because if there was a financial agreement, it went through the proper channels and I never knew it."

The School Board will hold a special meeting on the auditor's report on Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the district office in Starke, Jones said.

Cathi Carr can be reached at 374-5086 or carrc@gvillesun.com

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