The intense scrutiny of Metro Nashville Public Schools has taken another turn. Last month, the district claimed victory when an audit found most allegations about its vendor contracts were “unsubstantiated.” But those findings have been clarified in a revised audit.
Now using different language, Metro Auditor Mark Swann says district leaders made mistakes.
They failed to use a competitive process in picking some vendors and paid more money than contractually allowed to two companies.
All told, instead of two critical findings, the auditor now notes nine.
“That is a lot of policies not being followed. And the school board and senior management, I trust, will take it seriously and get that buttoned up,” said Councilman Bob Mendes, who also serves on the Metro Audit Committee.
Mendes had pushed the auditor to clarify the initial work, arguing the old report repeatedly used the word “unsubstantiated” even when there was evidence of policy violations. This left MNPS supporters and detractors arguing over their interpretations of the audit.
“Even if a policy had been violated, if there wasn’t a smoking gun of active intent to trick, fraud, steal, then the finding was ‘unsubstantiated,’ ” Mendes said.
So now it’s clarified: Schools Director Shawn Joseph and his top staff were not found to have intentionally circumvented rules about procurement; nor did they commit fraud.
But they did break policies.
“Nobody should argue there’s exoneration,” Mendes said. “Nobody should argue there’s a smoking gun.”
The auditor does not intend to issue further corrective actions, however. He said he already recommended that the school district be more diligent about following procurement rules and that a better tracking system be created to monitor vendor contracts.