0

School official: Flawed process allowed metal thefts

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

A Clayton County Public Schools official said a faulty scrap-metal, pick-up process created a situation in recent months, in which five district, maintenance employees were able to steal about $4,000 worth of school system items slated for recycling.

The now-former employees, who were fired last Thursday, had been taking the items, mostly scrap metal -- ranging from broken desks and chairs, to worn-out computers -- when the workers were sent to schools to retrieve them, according to School System Spokesman Charles White.

White said the items were supposed to be brought to a semi-truck trailer at the district's maintenance facility in Jonesboro. Once the trailer was filled, the items were to be sold to salvage yards for cash that goes into the school system's general fund.

"These are materials that the district no longer has any use for, nor could sell off at an auction," he said. "The procedure we use is, we collect these items, and we then sell them to a recycler, and that money goes back into the district. However, there were apparently a number of employees who were taking the items to the recycler themselves and pocketing the money."

An investigation by officials determined that the thefts had been taking place since this past summer, said the School District's Chief Operations Officer Cephus Jackson, who oversees the maintenance department. He said the employees were able to steal the items because the school system did not keep a paper record of what was being picked up from schools by maintenance workers.

Jackson said the system is not going to press charges against the five employees, because of something that he felt could have been avoided by having a better procedure in place.

"I'm not going to prosecute someone because they took advantage of the fact that we didn't have the proper procedures in place to prevent this," he said.

The district's operations department learned what the employees were doing after receiving an anonymous phone call, last Wednesday, about a school system maintenance vehicle parked outside a salvage yard where employees were selling scrap metal, Jackson said.

"We have so many schools, that we probably never would have found out this was happening, if someone hadn't called us about it," he said. "It's actually a good thing that this happened, because it allowed us to discover a fallacy in the process, and to fix it."

Jackson said that, by last Wednesday afternoon, school officials determined the identities of the employees, all of whom are lower-level maintenance workers, the chief operations officer said.

"When you do that [sell items to a salvage yard], you have to sign your name to some forms, and show your identification," Jackson said. He said the five employees were suspended that day, and the case was turned over to the school system's human resources department. By the end of the work day last Thursday, the employees had been fired, he added.

"One of the employees told me he was just strapped for cash," Jackson said.

A new procedure in place requires principals, or their designees, to submit a work order to the system's maintenance department before items destined for the scrap yard can be picked up, Jackson said. He said the work orders create a "paper trail" of what items should be placed in the trailer.

"I personally feel we should have had a better process in place all along," he said.