June 15, 2013

Fleming resigned amid ‘concerns’ over $2.6M grant

Audit came back clean of ‘wrongdoing’

By Christopher Smith

— The use of a $2.6 million state grant for new labs in Whitfield County Schools was being audited before Career Academy Principal and CEO Tim Fleming resigned Thursday morning, school officials said.

Fleming said Friday he was “not really in a place to comment” about his resignation or the audit. His last day is June 30.

Fleming was managing the grant money that is being used to install Science, Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) labs at several county schools, which are expected to be finished before the first day of school on Aug. 8, said school officials.

School Board Chairman Louis Fordham said board members had “questions and concerns” about whether the money was being used within the outlines of the grant.

Career Academy Board of Directors Chairman Tim Campbell said the audit came back “clean, with no wrongdoing.”

Fleming’s lawyer, Stewart Duggan, declined to respond to questions on Friday about the audit.

Superintendent Judy Gilreath said she requested the audit.

“I didn’t do it because I thought there might be misappropriation of funds,” said Gilreath. “I just wanted to make sure everything was good because it’s a lot of money. I just wanted to make sure I didn’t get accused or Tim didn’t get accused (of misusing the money). I think the school board had concerns. Not that Tim was doing anything wrong. Just some of the choices Tim made they didn’t agree with.”

One of those choices was purchasing a sign for the Career Academy before the STEM labs were finished, Gilreath said.

“I wouldn’t call that frivolous,” she said. “It was just that the school board wanted to make sure all the money went into the STEM lab first before other things were purchased.”

Asked if the audit put any pressure on Fleming to resign, Gilreath said she “didn’t know.”

“I don’t have a political agenda,” she said. “I don’t know what all went into Tim’s decision to resign, but I did ask for the audit.”

Campbell said it “scared him” when he heard about the audit.

“I was happy to hear that it was OK,” he said. “The audit came back and said the grant was within budget and properly used.”

Both Campbell and Fordham said the audit most likely wasn’t related to Fleming’s resignation.

“(But) there’s correlation between Tim’s performance and the management of the grants,” Fordham said. “But we (the county school board) were not directly involved between him and what took place this week with him resigning.”

Campbell said the academy board members hadn’t talked about Fleming’s job performance at length. They were scheduled to decide whether to renew his contract on Thursday.

“It’s not real clear to me why (Fleming) decided to have an attorney,” Campbell said. “I can’t really weigh in on that. The board didn’t have the opportunity to get to talk about renewing his contract. We never got to that point in our meeting because he resigned. All I know is I got a letter of resignation.”