Jul 15, 2022 - News

Grand jury says Cobb school board should expand spending oversight

Illustration of a pattern of gavels.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

A grand jury wants the Cobb County School Board to have a greater role in approving district expenditures.

Driving the news: The recommendations, which were signed last week, stem from a District Attorney review of a $12 million purchase of UV sanitizing lights and hand-rinsing machines using COVID-19 relief funds and approved by the board.

  • The grand jury says it did not find any criminal wrongdoings by the district but added the district is exempt from following Georgia’s procurement laws.

Flashback: In 2021, the school board's Democratic minority and parents criticized the purchase because it was made without community input and without information to show the purchases were effective in fighting COVID-19.

  • The district removed the UV lights from several elementary schools after they malfunctioned at one facility.

The grand jury said the board should change its policy to conduct a peer review of all planned purchases greater than $20,000 before they are awarded. It also said the board should approve all purchases that exceed $50,000.

  • The current policy calls for the board to approve anything that exceeds $200,000.

Of note: The grand jury's recommendations, which also call for the board to improve its working relationship, are not legally binding, District Attorney Flynn Broady told Axios.

What they're saying: Cobb schools spokesperson Nan Kiel told Axios in a statement that the district appreciates the grand jury "explicitly rejecting false allegations of criminal wrongdoing by the district and its staff."

  • "We also echo their recognition of the transparency with which the district's procurement staff operates," she said.

What we're watching: School Board member Jaha Howard said he's eager to talk with other board members about possibly implementing some of the recommendations.

  • "We haven't had a willingness for the majority of the board to acknowledge room for improvement over the last few years," he said. "That's the difficult part here."

Parent Stacy Efrat, a member of Watching the Funds - Cobb, which tracks school district spending, told Axios that the recommendations are the same solutions they have been pushing for the last 18 months. She also said she doesn't expect the board to make any changes.

  • "I'm not optimistic because they don't seem to be in the same reality that I'm in," she said of the majority of board members.
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