DCS Board Members Grill Superintendent, Claim They Were Unaware of Budget Crisis

Superintendent hires investigators to question staff about lack of financial controls

At a board meeting Tuesday, new revelations shed more light on the growing financial mess at Dallas County Schools.

Board members peppered Superintendent Rick Sorrells with question after question about how the school bus agency ended up $40 million off budget and why they were not told about the crisis earlier.

DCS staff acknowledged Tuesday the agency could run out of money by May or June unless they can renegotiate payments on millions of dollars of debt they've taken on in recent years.

Records presented at Tuesday's meeting showed DCS owes about $14 million in debt payments before the end of June.

Board members, clearly frustrated by the agency's financial state, pressed Sorrels for answers on how they ended up owing millions of dollars and why the agency then kept buying new buses and more cameras for the agency's controversial school bus stop-arm camera program.

Sorrells said that the internal accounting system that should have caught and flagged overspending was somehow turned off. He added that it was unclear how they were deactivated, but Sorrells told the board that he's brought in an investigative agency, which includes a former FBI agent, to question current and former about that issue and a series of other financial concerns.

"I hired a group to come in and do interviews with the staff to answer those questions," Sorrells said.

Board members questioned why they had not been given a full picture of the financial situation sooner and said they will get answers.

"How did we get here, essentially, is the big question. How did we get here? And we are working to get answers to that, and those questions are being asked," said DCS board member Gloria Levario.

NBC 5 Investigative Reporter Scott Friedman asked DCS board member Paul Freeman how the agency could fall $40 million behind without the board being aware.

"Well, lack of communication. I'm not trying to avoid your question – just lack of communication," Freeman said.

Meanwhile, the board approved Tuesday new ethics rules proposed as a result of NBC 5's series of investigations into DCS.

Previously we reported board president Larry Duncan received nearly $250,000 in campaign contributions from people tied to the bus camera vendor DCS used. Duncan has said those donations were legal and did not influence his judgment on the program. Going forward, board members will not be able to vote on any contract if they received more than $250 from a vendor in one year. Duncan was among the board members who unanimously approved that change Tuesday.

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