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N.C. audit criticizes Ferguson-Florissant superintendent’s spending there

Joseph Davis Ferguson-Florissant superintendent  1.29.15
Wiley Price | St. Louis American

Updated at 9:12 a.m. Jan. 8 with comment from school board: A report by the state auditor in North Carolina says that Joseph Davis, who now is superintendent of the Ferguson-Florissant School District, misspent money when he was in charge of the Washington County schools in that state.

The report issued by state auditor Beth Wood does not mention Davis by name. But it details what it says was the spending by the superintendent of more than $94,000 without proper authorization and the misspending of nearly $16,000 in federal funds on entertainment, including inflatable bounce houses and a video games trailer. That money, the report says, should have been spent on education programs.

Davis left the North Carolina district last summer, after serving as superintendent since 2012, and took over in Ferguson-Florissant on July 1. The district released a statement in response to the North Carolina audit that said:

“The Ferguson-Florissant School District Board of Education and Superintendent Davis are aware of the North Carolina audit and will be meeting in the near future to discuss it. Dr. Davis followed all the board policies while superintendent in Washington County Schools and stands by that fact.”

On Friday, board president Paul Morris said the board had met with Davis in closed session Thursday night to review the audit. In a letter to families in the district, Morris said:

"After reviewing the audit with Dr. Davis and our attorney, the Board remains steadfast in its confidence in Dr. Davis and his integrity and leadership.

"I want to assure you that FFSD has policies and procedures in place regarding travel and other expenditures by all district staff, including the Superintendent, as well as the Board of Education. Additionally, all purchases using District cards are included for board review in the monthly board packet. I am confident that our procedures and policies are followed as we serve you and our community."

In the audit, which was prompted by a call to a state tip line, Wood said that:

  •  “Without prior written authorization, a documented business purpose, or expenditure receipts,” Davis spent more than $94,000 on travel, meals, and merchandise over a 33-month period. The money went for hotel accommodations, airline tickets and fees, and car rental fees on travel to 23 out-of-state destinations and 38 in-state destinations.
  • “The former Superintendent rarely provided a documented business purpose, was regularly reimbursed above the School’s per diem rates, and infrequently submitted itemized receipts. Moreover, the majority of expenditures had no evidence of prior written authorization.”
  • For money spent on meals and merchandise, the audit found examples where the spending was not authorized, no business purpose was shown and receipts were not itemized.
  • For federal Title I and Title II funds amounting to nearly $16,000, spending was found for entertainment, food and gift cards. That spending included $9,025 for  inflatable bounce houses at six events and $600 for a video game trailer at one event.

“Inappropriate spending of Title I and Title II funds resulted in less funding for programmatic purposes,” the audit said, including at-risk children and improving teacher and principal quality. “Title I and Title II personnel advised the former Superintendent to not spend program funds on entertainment,” the report said. “However, the former Superintendent disregarded their advice on spending for certain events.
The audit recommended tighter policies and stricter oversight on spending.

In its response, the head of the district’s school board said the audit findings and recommendations were accepted “with no exception.”

The audit said that in his job in North Carolina, Davis was paid a base salary of $125,000. When he was hired by Ferguson-Florissant last year, he was given a three-year contract starting at $200,000 a year.

He was one of two finalists after a nationwide search for the job that had been held by Art McCoy, who departed in 2013. He left the district after being placed on administrative leave in 2013 for reasons that the district have never fully explained.

Follow Dale on Twitter: @dalesinger

Dale Singer began his career in professional journalism in 1969 by talking his way into a summer vacation replacement job at the now-defunct United Press International bureau in St. Louis; he later joined UPI full-time in 1972. Eight years later, he moved to the Post-Dispatch, where for the next 28-plus years he was a business reporter and editor, a Metro reporter specializing in education, assistant editor of the Editorial Page for 10 years and finally news editor of the newspaper's website. In September of 2008, he joined the staff of the Beacon, where he reported primarily on education. In addition to practicing journalism, Dale has been an adjunct professor at University College at Washington U. He and his wife live in west St. Louis County with their spoiled Bichon, Teddy. They have two adult daughters, who have followed them into the word business as a communications manager and a website editor, and three grandchildren. Dale reported for St. Louis Public Radio from 2013 to 2016.