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SC Attorney General wants investigation into spending practices in Richland One

Allegations of misspending in the district's P-card program come from parents in the school district.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina State Attorney General Alan Wilson is urging Governor Henry McMaster to investigate the use of purchase cards in Columbia's Richland County School District One.

Wilson's office sent the governor a letter requesting that he use his authority to engage the state's Inspector General to investigate any possible misuse of the cards.

This request comes as Lexington-Richland School District 5 is currently undergoing an audit that found that purchase cards in the district were being misused.

RELATED: School district changes purchasing card policy after audit finds misuses

In his letter to the governor, Wilson states "I have recently received many of the same kinds of complaints regarding Richland County School District One's use of purchase cards, or P-cards. I am thus writing to you now to ask for your help in calling for an Office of Inspector General investigation of Richland One's spending practices. 

"As you know, the State P-Card Program is designed to eliminate the burdens and costs associated with traditional methods of' payment, thereby promoting government efficiency. However, there are those who seek to exploit this program and in doing so, possibly commit criminal acts." 

 

Some of the allegations made by parents against Richland One officials include:

  • An internal audit by Richland One found 1,071 improper transactions totaling over $148,000 between January 1, 2020 to December 31, 2020. Purchases included items from grocery stores, fast food restaurants, dry cleaners, florists, and civil, social, and fraternal groups.
  • Repeated prohibited purchases, including unallowable food and restaurant purchases by employees.
  • Transactions made without supporting documentation verifying the purchases were made for valid school/business purposes.

RELATED: Lexington Richland 5 reveals financial audit

The Attorney General believes that these improprieties may not be limited to the school districts already undergoing audit or investigation but a sign of a systemwide problem.

Wilson writes: "For too long, districts have seemingly acted with impunity and have failed to properly safeguard public funds. Based on an initial review by my Office, the allegations about Richland One are not isolated but may be representative of a systemic problem throughout South Carolina. Structural reform of public school district purchase card spending and procurement practices is sorely needed. Additionally, it has recently come to our attention that some districts may be violating provisions of the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act -- specifically the law's substantive provision regarding notice of meetings of public bodies. I am confident that we both agree that our schools --and our children -- deserve better than this failing status quo. As you often say, our schools are key to our future."

In a statement to News19, a spokesperson from Governor McMaster's office said, "Currently, the Inspector General’s office is focusing its resources on existing investigations, including its investigation into Richland 2. The governor is considering all other requests – including requests for an investigation into Richland 1."

Sharon Adams is a grandmother of a Richland One student. She says the reports concern her. "You need to have checks and balances. At your home you have checks and balances. So I don’t know why we don’t have government with checks and balances...You got people who are supposed to be overseeing the school district, using purchasing cards for their own benefit, but you can’t pay a teacher a decent wage."

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