The director of budget and staffing for Fayette County Public Schools sent an email Monday to board members, saying a $20 million "irregularity" was the cause of the district's current budget crisis.
"I feel compelled to provide this information to the board to shed light on the facts surrounding the current budget crisis and suspected violations of law and numerous acts of mismanagement, fraud, waste and abuse of authority that have resulted in the current state of affairs," Mullins wrote in the email.
However, Fayette County Superintendent Tom Shelton said in response at a Tuesday briefing that "the allegations in the memo are untrue — mischaracterizations of very routine accounting procedures."
Mullins' email said a $20 million entry into the budget in 2011 was "irregular" because Rodney Jackson, the district's director of finance, made the entry on Dec. 6, 2011, six months after it should have been included.
Because of the late entry, Mullins said, the working budget for 2012-13 was approved by the board with numbers that were inflated by $20 million.
Jackson was in a meeting Tuesday and could not immediately be reached for comment.
Shelton said at the news briefing that the working budget for 2012-2013 was not inflated because of a budget journal entry and that Jackson and other district officials had not made errors.
Neither Shelton nor other district official had committed mismanagement, he said.
However, Shelton said he had asked Edelen's office and the OEA to conduct a full review so the public can be assured that there were no improprieties. Shelton said he thought Mullins' allegations stemmed from misunderstandings. He said the $20 million journal entry that Mullins mentioned had nothing to with the $20 million budget reduction.
Earlier this year, Shelton said he needed to cut $20 million from the budget because the district was outspending its revenues and was draining its contingency fund. That announcement led to months of contentious debate, punctuated by a heated May 19 school board meeting where Ferguson and board member Doug Barnett refused to approve a $426.9 tentative budget that included $19.1 million in cuts. A board meeting has been called for 6 p.m. Wednesday at the district's Central Office on East Main Street to try to resolve the issues before Friday. That's when, by law, the district has to submit a tentative budget to the Kentucky Department of Education. On Tuesday, Shelton said he would provide specific information on Mullins' allegations to the board at that meeting.
Mullins, who said in the email she had worked in the Budget and Staffing office for 16 years and has been the Director of Budget and Staffing for 10 years, did not immediately respond to a telephone call from the Herald-Leader asking for comment about her email.
Mullins said in the email that when she discovered the irregularity, she met with Shelton on October 18, 2012, and showed him the error.
The email said Shelton, after seeing documents about the error, said to Mullins: "Are you telling me the budget for the last two years has been inflated by $20 million with recurring expenses"?
Mullins said she told Shelton that was correct, and once "Tom was made aware of the dire situation on October 18, 2012, he failed to advise the Board or to take immediate and decisive steps to address the critical financial situation that faced the district."
"Instead, he continued to spend as if there were no crisis and with some of the expenditures being in violation of board policy," Mullins' email said.
For example, Mullins said, Shelton granted significant pay raises to Chief Operating Officer Mary Wright and Vince Mattox, School Chief Officer of Community and Government Support, without board approval, and without adjustments in their position descriptions.
Mullins said money was spent for special programs like the STEAM Academy and the expansion of the Carter G. Woodson Academy. She said the district picked up additional expenses for Opportunity Middle College that was previously funded with a grant, implemented a 1 percent salary increase, spent $360,000 for a match for a grant called Spending Money Smartly and spent $80,000 for an administrator to oversee the grant.
"All of these had significant budget implications," Mullins said in the e-mail.
Mullins said she was directed — she didn't say by whom — not to "flag" in documents prepared for the board, a salary increase for Chief Academic Officer Lu Young.
"I did as directed even though this is not consistent with the philosophy of 'transparency' with which Tom indicated that he would conduct the business of the school district," Mullins' email said.
Shelton said Tuesday that any raise he authorized was made with the board's approval. He said that he did ask Mullins whether the budget had been imflated by $20 million but he later determined that no error had been made and he told her that.
At the May 19 board meeting, Ferguson asked Jackson and Wright whether an irregularity had occurred with $20 million in 2011. Both said no. Shelton also told the Herald-Leader that no irregularity had occurred.
Meanwhile, Mullins' raised another issue in the email. She said board policy requires approval for transfers of more than $50,000. But Mullins said in May of 2013 Shelton wanted transfers in his budget in excess of $50,000 to include two $75,000 transfers to NaviGo, a career and college preparation company.
NaviGo was founded by one of Shelton's friends, former Kenton County Superintendent Tim Hanner, who has implemented a pilot program in Fayette County high schools.
Mullins said in the email that Shelton directed that these "budget transfers be made despite the fact that they violated the board policy requiring approval for such expenditures."
Shelton said that allegation was untrue and that he simply paid two $75,000 invoices to NaviGo from his budget.
"I realize that by providing this information to you, the Auditor of Public Accounts and OEA and requesting a full investigation, I risk being retaliated against by the superintendent," Mullins wrote to the board. "I also recognize that under state law, Board members cannot become involved in personnel matters and therefore cannot protect me. While I certainly hope that I will not be retaliated against, I have already retained counsel and am prepared to avail myself of the protections afforded by state and federal law."
Shelton wrote the board an email in response to Mullins' email to the board, saying he has "been made aware of the correspondence that was received by the Board from Julane overnight."
"I am astounded by these allegations," he said in the email, which also was provided to the Herald-Leader. "Please be assured that we will conduct a full investigation and provide a corresponding report in writing related to each of these concerns. If necessary, we can work with the State Auditor's Office and OEA, or any other external investigator as needed."
In regard to the $20 million budget entry, district spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall said Fayette school officials "have already reviewed these entries."
Deffendall noted that Mullins was only questioning the "timing of the entries, not the validity of the transfers or any related approvals."