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DeKalb School Board discusses costs of inflation, construction delays

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DeKalb School Board discusses costs of inflation, construction delays

DeKalb County Schools Director of Audits and Compliance Joel Thibodeaux.

DeKalb County, GA — At the DeKalb Board of Education’s Audit Committee meeting on Aug. 9, five of the seven board members were in attendance, and the discussion ranged from the audit and compliance department itself and the status of ongoing audits to how both inflation and delays have cost the district money.

Director of Audits and Compliance Joel Thibodeaux began the meeting by reviewing the purpose and role of the internal audit department. Audits and Compliance is independent of other DCSD departments, including finance.  Part of what it does is to create an annual audit plan derived from risk assessment in the previous year’s outside audit. It also assists with internal evaluations on request and sometimes proactively.

Most audit reports are to be shared with the Board of Education as a whole or the Audit Committee by the superintendent, and are available to the public through open records requests.

Investigations of individuals are typically confidential but may be shared at the discretion of the superintendent.

Thibodeaux said that the comprehensive audit of the district’s expenditure of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds by FORVIS, LLC. is in process, and should be completed in February 2024. Data and analytics were provided to FORVIS in July, and an initial draft should be available in November. A final report collaboration with FORVIS will begin in December.

Thibodeaux said that audits of e-SPLOST IV and V by Plante Moran are also underway.

Thibodeaux said that Plante Moran has received all the information they need, and that project spend has been reconciled for 190 of the 260 projects.

Thibodeaux added that a construction audit team was included.

“We know that was an area of interest with the number of change orders. We want to make sure that what was promised is what was delivered,”  Thibodeaux said.

Board member Anna Hill asked about variances in project reports from what had originally been planned.

Superintendent Devon Horton said, “We had a difference of about 25% from inflation from what was originally allocated. We’re still coming out of COVID in that sense.”

Hill said that the district needs to try to be as efficient as possible in its decision-making processes, although she acknowledged that could be a challenge, especially with a district the size of DCSD.

“Even the most efficient school district can’t make a school magically appear…Bulldozers don’t go out the very next day,” Hill said.

However, Hill said that because of inflation and even changes in enrollment, delays could be expensive.

“The longer it takes us to make the decisions that we need to make, it costs more money,” Hill said.

Board member Whitney McGinnis said that the district has to be clear about when things are dropped off project lists and why.

“There’s a school in my district that was slated for five improvements. Only four things were done yet the project was marked as completed….We need to track when the scope of a project is reduced or a school is removed from a project list,” McGinnis said.

Board Vice Chair Deirdre Pierce praised the approach she was seeing from Thibodeaux and Chief Financial Officer Byron Shueneman.

“What we have is a heightened level of awareness and urgency about not doing things the way we have been doing them…Thank you for making the difference that we want to see,” Pierce said.

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