The Pine Bluff School District Board of Directors demanded reimbursement of nearly all of the $10,000 issued to Superintendent Jerry O. Payne as part of his employment contract Tuesday night.
The demand was made at the end of a special called meeting of the board.
After a 20 minute executive session, a quorum of board members voted unanimously to order Payne to reimburse the Pine Bluff School District $9,446.97 in the form of a cashier’s check on Feb. 21 at the next regular monthly board meeting. The board found that only $553.03 of the original $10,000 remitted to Payne was a legitimate moving expense.
In a second vote, a quorum of the board voted unanimously to order the school district to stop all reimbursements until all current documents for reimbursement are reviewed and approved by the board and to order the business office to implement a check and balance system for reimbursements.
Board president Herman Horace and member Kenneth Dickson were not present for the meeting.
Prior to the executive session, board vice president and acting chair Donna Barnes said that the board would be reviewing Payne’s response to the first of seven directives issued by the board to Payne at the December regular board meeting and formally answered by the superintendent at the January regular board meeting.
The directive from the board to Payne pertaining to moving expenses reads “provide the school board with valid receipts for your moving expenses as stated in your contract or reimburse the $10,000 that you received in advance to Pine Bluff School District.”
Payne supplied a copy of a check dated June 22, 2011, that he received from the Pine Bluff School District in the amount of $10,000, in his written response to the directive.
“Have you all had the opportunity to review it in its entirety?” Barnes asked her fellow board members.
She then asked each board member separately whether they had been able to review Payne’s answer and each member said yes.
“I have also had the opportunity to read it,” Barnes said.
“The Arkansas audit committee asked us to consider what is a permissible receipt,” Barnes said.
Barnes began to discuss receipts that had been supplied to the Arkansas state legislative auditors by Payne in the fall of 2011 and this action stirred Payne’s ire.
“You are bringing up an item that is not even in the directives,” Payne said. “You said you would be discussing directive one and now you are talking about items related to the Arkansas state auditor’s committee.”
“This speaks to the directive,” Barnes replied.
“Is there any reason we couldn’t have brought this up next week at the regular meeting of the board?” Payne asked.
Barnes asked board secretary Freddie M. Johnson to read a provision in Payne’s employment contract pertaining to reimbursement for moving expenses.
“The District shall reimburse moving relocation expenses up to $10,000 to cover the cost of moving his family and belongings to Pine Bluff, Arkansas, upon receiving receipts,” Johnson said.
“Fiscal year findings,” Johnson began to read from another document, only to be interrupted by Payne.
“You have a legislative audit report that has not been reviewed or finalized,” Payne said. “You are rushing something that needs to be backed up. I have had relocation expenses of over $30,000. When I was negotiating it was part of the contract. I am simply asking you not to get ahead of the legislative process and do some things that will cause us all irreparable pain.”
Barnes said she had spoken earlier in the day with one of the officials involved in the legislative audit.
“I spoke with Beverly Achorn today,” Barnes said. “The auditors have already submitted their findings related to the moving expenses and have asked us to decide what is a moving expense and what the mileage reimbursement should be. We are actually being directed by the legislative audit committee to do this and have been asked to report our findings back tomorrow to the Board of Legislative Auditors.”
“We will now go into executive session,” Barnes said and began to explain the purpose of the session.
Payne attempted to speak and called for a point of order but Barnes did not acknowledge him and the board moved into executive session.