Leatha Mullins, the acting superintendent at Dallas County Schools, is speaking out for the first time about what she's discovering inside the scandal-ridden school bus agency while hoping they can secure enough cash to make it through to the end of the year.
Mullins told NBC 5 Investigates the agency lacked proper financial controls and that they're now conducting internal audits to determine how they got where they are. At the same time, she's attempting to restructure millions of dollars in debt, hoping to buy the agency a lifeline.
Mullins told NBC 5 Investigates she's optimistic the agency can survive its current financial crisis.
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"I believe they can, with all of us working together. We do have to have the right pieces that fall into place," Mullins said.
Mullins said she is confident DCS can pay its bills through June. But when asked if DCS will be able to raise enough cash to make it through the end of the year she was less sure.
"Let me get all of the financial reports that we're working on and let me see what we're going to be able to present to the board mid-April and then we will be able to give you a better answer."
Mullins was promoted to acting superintendent three weeks ago when Superintendent Rick Sorrells stepped down with a generous retirement deal amid questions into a $42 million budget gap and runaway spending on a school bus stop-arm camera program that cost the agency millions of dollars.
In the last two weeks, DCS has lost millions in revenue with canceled bus service contracts in Coppell and Weatherford. Mullins said she's meeting with others and hopes they remain customers of the beleaguered agency. She's also gearing up for a fight in Austin where Texas Sen. Don Huffines (R-Dallas) wants to introduce legislation that would shut down the agency.
At the same time, DCS has hired a former FBI agent to investigate whether financial crimes contributed to the current mess.
Mullins said they've not yet learned if the financial mess is the result of mistakes and mismanagement or something more criminal, but that she was "hoping and praying that ... it wasn't done intentional."
Meanwhile, Mullins is reaching out to staff, addressing new concerns as they come in and urging them to not give up. In a small, but symbolic move, she has removed free coffee in the DCS offices -- a reminder to employees that the agency needs to be frugal with every dollar they spend.
"There are some mistakes, some decisions that were made and we possibly didn't go the right direction, but that doesn't mean we can't keep the legacy of this organization and serving the community that we serve," Mullins said.
Mullins said former superintendent Sorrells is still available to assist DCS as questions come up.
Sorrells hired the investigator looking into the financial situation before he left DCS.