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Tattnall School Superintendent Resigns
Friday, 03 April 2009

April 3--  From "The Tattnall Journal"

by Ronald E. McCall
Staff Writer

Image Superintendent James H. Turbeville resigned as Tattnall County Superintendent of Schools effective June 30, 2009, at a called board meeting on Monday, March 30, 2009. With the concurrence of the board, he placed himself on administrative leave effective March 17, 2009, until the effective date of his resignation. By terms of the agreement, board members are prevented from making derogatory remarks concerning the issue for a period of six months from the effective date of the resignation. He will be paid his regular superintendent salary from now through June 30, which will amount to three months salary. Dr. Gina Williams will be acting superintendent during that period. Any contact between Turbeville and Tattnall County School personnel will be channeled through Dr. Williams (see terms of the resignation agreement at the end of this article).

Turbeville’s resignation may be a surprise to some. However, the March 19 issue of The Glennville Sentinel reported that he had placed himself on administrative leave after the called meeting on Tuesday, March 17. A called board meeting was set for the following Wednesday, but all discussion was in executive session. Another called meeting was scheduled for Wednesday, April 1, and then changed to Monday, March 30.

Currently, Board members are not commenting on particulars due to legal restrictions placed on individual members and the board as a whole under the terms of the resignation agreement. However, The Tattnall Journal had previously researched the issue and uncovered information of considerable interest.

During the fall campaign for Board of Education seats, there was intense discussion concerning the amount of travel expense the superintendent accrues annually. According to his reimbursement records, Turbeville made numerous trips to California, Tennessee, Texas, and Colorado with Tattnall teachers, administrators, and some board members during the past 3 years. Many concerned citizens, including the newly elected Chairman of the Board, Richard Bland, questioned if that was the most efficient use of staff development funds.

That criticism intensified when it was discovered that Superintendent Turbeville’s 2008 travel expense of $21,158.09 was ranked second in the state among public school superintendents and college presidents. Only University of Georgia President Michael Adams lists more travel expense. Presidents of Georgia Tech, Georgia Southern University, Georgia State, Georgia College, Valdosta State and all Georgia public school superintendents ranked behind Turbeville. Travel expense comparisons of other local public school superintendents include: Chatham County Schools, $12,883.61; Appling County Schools, $3,407.53; Effingham County Schools, $2,996.43; Toombs County Schools, $353.40; Candler County, $2,491.84 (source: open.ga.gov).

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A review of his tenure at Raymond School District in New Hampshire indicates that travel was an issue prior to his arrival in Tattnall County. Jason Schreiber, a writer for The New Hampshire Union Leader, reported in August 2002 that Turbeville spent $19,000.00 to carry 13 teachers and administrators to Hawaii for a four day conference. Although there was support among teachers who made the trip, some school board members and citizens felt that the money could have been spent more effectively. Additionally, board members expressed concern that they were not made aware of the trip until plans had been finalized.

During his tenure at Raymond, Turbeville carried school staff members to other conferences in Nashville, Tennessee; Monterey, California; Reno, Nevada; Providence, Rhode Island and San Antonio, Texas.

Turbeville said that the funds came from a federal grant (Goals 2000), and didn’t cost the local taxpayers any money. Some who questioned the trips argued that even though it was federal funds, it was still taxpayers’ money (source: New Hampshire Union Leader files).

With numerous called Board meetings over the past month (several times in closed session) and assuming that travel could be an issue, The Tattnall Journal requested Mr. Turbeville’s travel reimbursement vouchers from the Tattnall County Board of Education last week. In addition, the Journal asked for and received the First District Regional Educational Service Agency (FDRESA) sign-in rosters for area superintendents who travel to Statesboro monthly to serve on the RESA Board of Control. Also, the First District Superintendents’ Association has a monthly meeting on the same date and location, and those attendance records were requested and received as well. RESA Director Shelley Smith uses a multi-step process to make sure the sign-in sheets are completely accurate.

These records indicate that Mr. Turbeville missed 20 of the 36 RESA meetings since August of 2005. Additionally he signed in for the superintendents’ association meeting only eight times. But the fact that the requested and received travel reimbursements for at least 10 trips to RESA and the superintendents’ meetings when he was not listed as present, presents a problem (source: Turbeville expense vouchers).

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There are other inconsistencies. Under the terms of his contract, Superintendent Turbeville is paid $500 monthly for in-county travel expenses. Additionally, a random selection of his travel expense shows he was paid $283.30 for out of county travel in May-June of 2008 for two trips to Georgia Southern at 98 miles each, three trips to Claxton for lunch with staff at 29 miles each, 31 miles to Claxton for a Cedarwood meeting, one trip to RESA in Bulloch County at 96 miles, and two trips to Vidalia for a staff lunch at 77 miles each. Round trip mileage to Vidalia from the Tattnall Board of Education office is 42 miles according to mapquest.com.

According to his vouchers, he has requested and received travel reimbursement for athletic events played away from home fields and courts. Although reimbursement for superintendents to attend athletic events is virtually unheard of in South Georgia, the board may choose to make those payments.

Tattnall County employees requesting reimbursement for expenses must sign the following oath. “I do solemnly swear, under criminal penalty of a felony for false statements subject to punishment by fine of not more that $1000.00 or by imprisonment for not less than one nor more than five years, that the above statements are true and I have incurred the described expenses and the state use mileage in the discharge of my official duties for the state.” There is a similar oath for mileage reimbursement.

The information presented above is a result of an informal review of a limited portion of financial and attendance records over the past three years. Board members or employees who have central office leadership obligations have the option to consider a forensic audit to clear all issues before the new administration begins.

Superintendent Turbeville was contacted by phone and stated that the terms of the resignation limited what he could say. However, when asked about the mileage reimbursements for the trips when he did not sign in at RESA or the superintendents’ meeting, he stated that there were additional facts that made that information inaccurate. He said the previous board had authorized him to make those trips and not attend those meetings. When contacted, previous board members declined to comment.

Chairman Richard Bland stated that he could not comment on the terms of the agreement. “I don’t agree with all the provisions, but we followed the advice of our lawyers as we did not want to incur unnecessary expense to the taxpayers of Tattnall County. I believe the Board did what it believes to be in the best interest of the students, staff members and taxpayers of Tattnall County, and that is all I can say at this time,” Bland said.

 

 

 
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