School Board members must sign off on capital-expenditure contracts, according to Richmond Public Schools policy. Apparently, for nearly a year, that hasn't been the case.
Instead, since July Superintendent Yvonne Brandon has been providing the board with a monthly briefing on contracts of more than $15,000. At an April 4 meeting, for example, the board received updates that included an undisclosed amount for portable radios, $21,500 in masonry repairs at Mary Munford Elementary School and $29,621 to renovate the entrance steps at Bellevue Elementary.
The discrepancy was noted in a recent report from the school system's Internal Audit Services, which recommended that the board approve contracts as policy requires. In response, the board voted 7-2 on April 4 to temporarily suspend the policy while board members Dawn Page and Chandra Smith review it. Kimberly Gray and Norma Murdoch-Kitt voted against the measure.
Prior to the vote, Brandon indicated a general agreement among board members had authorized her to provide updates instead of seeking approval for capital expenditures. Gray criticized the move to not follow board policy and said it should have been put to a public vote.
Chairwoman Kimberly Bridges says discussions about following the policy didn't happen behind closed doors, but she couldn't pinpoint when the decision was made: "We didn't do a formal vote."
Bridges says she reviewed minutes and closed-session affidavits and found no indication that discussion had taken place in closed session. "Full oversight is still a priority," she says.
The matter is expected to come back to the board in May, when Page and Smith make recommendations. In the meantime, Brandon can execute contracts without board approval.
In attendance at the April 4 meeting, Carol Wolf, a board member who served from 2002-'08, watched in dismay. "We have received enough audits from [City Auditor] Umesh Dalal, and now we have an audit from Richmond Public Schools' own internal auditor saying that the School Board needs to hold the administration accountable for reporting this information as the policy requires," Wolf says. "Not to do so opens the door into the possibility of fraud and waste of precious taxpayer dollars."