HSV city leaders question money given to non-profit - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

HSV city leaders question money given to non-profit

Huntsville city school leaders want to know what happened to $40,000 in grant money. Huntsville city school leaders want to know what happened to $40,000 in grant money.

Huntsville city school leaders want to know what happened to $40,000 in grant money.

The money was supposed to go to a non-profit organization helping at-risk kids; however an internal memo obtained by WAFF states the non-profit isn't what it seemed.

The memo states Madison County Commissioner Bob Harrison established the non-profit, Northwest Huntsville Community Services Organization. The main purpose was tutoring children. It got thousands of dollars in funding from not only Huntsville City Schools, but the city and the Madison County Commission.

Huntsville city school leaders want to know how that money was spent.

"A school system is not a piggy bank for adults. The school system has resources that taxpayers provide for kids, and that seems to be forgotten again, so I think it's a very serious matter," said Huntsville City Schools Superintendent Dr. Casey Wardynski.

Dr. Wardynski said WAFF brought this matter to his attention – a matter that surfaced once we obtained a 2009 internal memo regarding an audit. The audit pre-dates Wardynski taking over as the head of Huntsville City Schools.

In it, the schools' auditor alerts the former head of business affairs to what he calls "questionable practices of a non-profit." In 2008, the district awarded a total of $40,000 to the Northwest Huntsville Community Services Organization with the Circle Project, which offered things like after-school tutoring.

But the auditor claims it was more than just a non-profit.

"It appears, and there is strong evidence from the face of those documents, that the grantee is ineligible for those grants," said Dr. Wardynski.

In bold, it says these funds are not to be utilized to partner with governmental nor quasi-governmental agencies. The audit calls attention to who signed the grant contracts – Madison County Commissioner Bob Harrison – saying the District 6 commissioner established the not-for-profit organization. The organization is located in Madison County Commission District 6 offices. The key contacts for the agency are employed by Madison County Commission. Purchases of supplies by the organization are billed to Madison County Commission.

The memo also addresses a conflict of interest where a school employee who served on the committee to vote on what organizations would be awarded grant funds also worked as a county employee in the office of District 6.

Wardynski described what he saw in the memo thusly: "Something going on in District 6 to advantage adults, to the disadvantage of children, to the disadvantage of Huntsville City Schools students and it is intolerable. I take a very dim view of it and this school system is not the personal plaything of county commissioners."

Speaking of contacts for the agency, the memo goes on to say, "These ladies, while employed by Madison County, do no work for the county. Their compensation and fringe benefits are supposed to be reimbursed by NHCSO, however the fringe benefits were paid from the Madison County General Fund and have not been reimbursed."

"In fact, we saw duo-billing for employees. All that raises serious questions," said Dr. Wardynski.

2008 was a much different time for the district. "It points back to a pattern that brought this district to its knees financially," said Wardynski.

…Which brings us back to the $40,000 Huntsville City Schools awarded the non-profit, a figure Wardynski said could have equaled a teacher's salary.

"Things such as co-mingling of funds, sharing addresses, sharing of employees, all these things that would elude to the fact that maybe you don't have a real company, these were all present in this instance," said Jason Taylor, Huntsville City Schools' Chief Financial Officer.

"We will be looking for the recovery of funds – if, indeed there was impropriety here, this money was for kids, for distribution of non-profit, non-governmental agencies, and that's where they need to be," said Dr. Wardynski.

Commissioner Bob Harrison was reached for comment, but declined an interview, saying the audit speaks for itself. He also said this is an attempt by some to distract from what he is trying to do for the northwest community in the interest of children.

The City of Huntsville reviewed documentation and determined no action was needed. As for Huntsville City Schools, the district has already put the information in the hands of law enforcement and has ordered a forensic audit to recover the money.

"When things like this that pre-dated by superintendency come to my attention, I'm going to act on it," said Wardynski.

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