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Attorney: DOJ grants paid school system employees extra, board didn’t know

By DEUCE NIVEN

tribdeuce@tabor-loris.com

     At least two Columbus County Board of Education employees have been paid from federal grant proceeds for work they did applying for those grants, Supt. Alan Faulk confirmed Tuesday.

     Neither Supt. Faulk nor members of the school board were aware of those payments until after the three-year US Department of Justice (DOJ) funded grant ended at the end of last year, school board attorney Bill Phipps said.

     It’s a topic almost certain to claim the attention of the school board and Columbus County Commissioners during a joint meeting next Monday, a session the school board sought for other reasons, Faulk said.

     School board member “just wants to sit down, talk, about building projects, budgets, that sort of stuff,” Faulk said.

     Commissioner Buddy Byrd said they school board can expect questions on grant writing policies and payments, broaching the topic during Monday’s county board meeting.

     “How can a salaried employee write a grant and then claim $30,000 from the top for writing the grant?” Byrd asked.

     “Especially if they were expressly prohibited from doing that,” commissioner Trent Burroughs said.

     “If a county school employee is paid, and wrote the grant, that money would come to the school system, and they would have to write a separate check to that employee,” commissioner Trent Burroughs said.

     County Manager Mike Stephens said he, too, had heard talk of the practice but knew little about it.

     “That’s a school board issue that I’m not involved in and I’m not going to be involved in,” Stephens said.

‘Totally clear of knowing anything’

     Although the school board approved the request to apply for the grant, and school leaders were aware the grant had been awarded and the program established, details were not provided to them, Phipps said.

     That’s because the program was managed through the Robeson County Board of Education, Phipps said. The two Columbus Schools’ employees involved in managing the program were paid by the Robeson County Schools, those payments not known by anyone else in the Columbus schools, Phipps said.

     “If we had known it, their salaries would have taken an appropriate cut, probably,” Phipps said. “I don’t want to speak for the school board, but I expect that’s what would have happened.

     “The board is honestly and totally clearing of knowing anything about it until it came through Columbus County,” Phipps said.

     For much more on this story see today’s Tabor-Loris Tribune in print and online.