State investigators find problems in audit of Amite schools

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 10, 2003

LIBERTY &045; State investigators found glaring problems with the Amite County School District &045; including undocumented grade changes, improper graduations and illegal disciplinary measures &045; according to an extensive report from the Mississippi Department of Education.

Officials from the department delivered the results of a two-month audit to school board members at their regular meeting on Thursday evening.

&uot;We want to do anything we can to help this district, but we do want them to make some changes,&uot; said Dr. Beth Sewell, director of the department’s Office of Accreditation.

Email newsletter signup

Sewell said auditors found numerous changes to grades and course credits that were not properly documented.

&uot;There is a procedure &045; a correct way of doing things &045; that was not always followed,&uot; said Sewell, adding that some students were given diplomas with fewer than the minimum number of Carnegie units &045; or credits &045; required for graduation.

&uot;The state minimum is 20, but each district may require more,&uot; said Sewell.

The Amite district requires 22 credits to graduate, but Sewell said some students graduated with substantially fewer units &045; including at least one student with only 14.5 units.

Sewell said investigators also discovered that school officials were illegally imposing fines on students who had been suspended for disciplinary reasons.

The students were required to pay $75 fines before they could return to school.

&uot;That’s illegal.

We don’t fine students for disciplinary problems,&uot; said Sewell.

Steve Williams, a senior member of the department’s audit team, said the problems stem from a lack of leadership in the district.

&uot;I’ve been doing this a long time, and the Amite County district has some very serious issues that impact the integrity of the system,&uot; Williams said.

&uot;But this is not an indictment of everybody in the school district.

There are some good people working there, but it all goes back to leadership,&uot; said Williams.

The district &045; already struggling with staff shortages and funding problems &045; now must quickly formulate a corrective plan of action to avoid a negative impact on its accreditation rating.

School Superintendent Charles Kirkfield said he is confident all the deficiencies can be corrected.

In addition to meetings with state officials, Kirkfield said he and his staff will meet with school board members next week.

&uot;It’s no time for finger-pointing.

It’s time to get to work,&uot; Kirkfield said.

Williams said investigators were first called to Amite County when allegations of student record tampering surfaced in October.

Amite County High School principal Charlie Floyd was suspended without pay in October amid published reports that he allegedly changed a student’s grades.