PHOTO: Courtland HS football field

An aerial view of Courtland High School’s blue turf football stadium.

WHY did he do it?

Why did a long-serving elected official who is running for reelection contact the media and misrepresent the facts? [‘Where did $600,000 of Spotsylvania taxpayer money go?’ Aug. 8].

Why did he risk compromising an early, ongoing investigation that could lead to recovery of the stolen funds and catching the perpetrators of this crime?

Why did he put out a scathing commentary that was weighted much more heavily on political accusations than concern about the crime of stealing taxpayer money?

Finally, why did he not sound the alarm when smaller amounts of county funds were stolen on two separate occasions?

It is a sad day when opinion is presented and accepted as fact. Supervisor Tim McLaughlin’s political commentary in The Free Lance–Star this past week require an accurate, truthful counter response. Unfortunately, there is not enough space for me to address it all in one op-ed.

Both the Spotsylvania School Board and the Spotsylvania Board of Supervisors were notified within 24 hours of the crime being discovered. This notification occurred on July 25, not Aug. 1. At that time, it had been less than a week since the payment had posted.

I am also aware that Mr. McLaughlin emailed a School Board member on July 25, asking if she had any updates on the matter he had just been briefed on hours earlier. While I do not know any specific information about the crimes against the county, I wonder how long he has known about them or about his state of outrage when he learned about them both times.

The funds were not lost or mismanaged. They were stolen. The school division reported the crime immediately. Division and county leaders were advised by both the Spotsylvania Sheriff’s Office and the Virginia State Police to maintain confidentiality in order to not compromise the investigation. They shared that these kinds of cybercrimes are becoming more prevalent throughout the state and the nation.

Regarding oversight and fiduciary responsibility, the school division actually saved $255,685 in taxpayer money that it believed was properly withheld due to the performance issues of a vendor. The vendor walked off the job and filed a claim for the school division to pay $755,685. The school division was prudent and saved on legal fees by settling this matter through mediation and paying what was legitimately due for services rendered: $525,000.

We currently subject our school system to independent external audits. Every year, our school division participates in a comprehensive annual audit by an outside firm—the same firm that audits the county. In fact, we sit and listen jointly with the county supervisors and staff to a public presentation regarding an audit of our accounting procedures, controls and fiscal practices.

Additionally, we are audited by an independent firm for school activity funds as well as federal reviews for title funding and grants. All of these audits have reflected that the school division’s financial statements have been fairly presented without material weaknesses being identified. The controls we have in place are continuously reviewed and adjusted based on this and other processes.

The 2014 bond referendum vote was preceded by public hearings and local community forums. The first installation of artificial turf coincides with a comprehensive renovation of Courtland High School. Additional cost beyond the original estimate was not due to the blue color. The School Board voted unanimously to the increased cost due to unique drainage considerations in a public budget work session on April 15 of this year.

Mr. McLaughlin references carryover fiscal 2018 funds that he said could have been used to pay for turf. However, that money was used to support classroom instructional materials and technology, and included $242,000 to purchase classroom supplies that were distributed to teachers at every school.

In the fiscal 2020 budget, each high school band is receiving funds to cover expenses such as uniforms. McLaughlin is aware of these expenditures—and he still voted against the school budget yet again in April.

It would be a travesty if an elected official took advantage of an unfortunate crime committed against the citizens of this county to advance his own and others’ political aspirations.

Baron Braswell is the chair of the Spotsylvania County School Board.