Officials put LHS principal on leave

Gilstrap and secretary placed on paid leave after school records audit

LIBERTY — School district officials have been tight-lipped about the situation at Liberty High School, where principal Randy Gilstrap and secretary/bookkeeper Buea DeNard were placed on paid administrative leave over the weekend following a random records audit last Friday.

District superintendent Henry Hunt released an official statement Monday addressing the matter.
“Last Friday afternoon, the district began a review of school records, including financial records, at Liberty High School,” Hunt said. “As the review of records progressed on Saturday, the decision was made to put the principal and secretary/bookkeeper on paid administrative leave.”

“Because this involves a personnel matter and a review is continuing, the district cannot comment further,” he said. “Meanwhile, the review of records is continuing. The process will take time and patience as we look at all details. We will be thorough and fair throughout the process. Getting facts out is important to us, and when we have additional information that can be made public, we will do so at once.”

Hunt met with Liberty High School faculty and staff on Monday afternoon, briefing them on the situation and placing assistant principal Lori Gwinn in charge of the school while Gilstrap is on leave. Hunt also said a member of the district’s financial services staff will be at the school to handle all bookkeeping duties while district administrators continue their investigation of Liberty High records and financials.

Gilstrap, who has worked for the School District of Pickens County since December 1980, and DeNard, who has been with the district since August 1986, have not been accused of or charged with anything as of press time.

School board trustees, like district administrators, are not offering detailed information about the recent developments at Liberty High.

“The school board is not conducting this investigation, so none of the board members are involved in this first hand,” said recently elected board chair Alex Saitta. “The district is conducting this investigation.
“The district wants to be fair to the school, community and employees involved. With numbers, being fair and being thorough go hand in hand. Having examined school district figures for years and being a financial analyst for years, I can tell you often one number can lead you to believe this, but when looking at it relative to others, or looking at related things that are going on in other accounts, it may then mean nothing.”

Saitta, who has always been an outspoken proponent of taking a more conservative approach when it comes to SDPC budgeting and financial planning, has encouraged board members to take a more active role in the budget planning process — especially in light of the $5 million deficit the district is facing for the FY 2011-2012. Additional board meetings have been scheduled so that board members can more closely examine spending throughout the SDPC.

“To be fair and thorough, all those rabbits need to be tracked down,” Saitta said. “I’m guessing that school is making financial transactions every day. Likely, each one will have to be looked at closely and thoroughly.

“Also, depending on how good and organized the records are at that school, it may take a long time just to get all the receipts and statements in the right piles before they can analyze anything. Knowing all this takes a lot of time, so the board is patiently waiting for the district to complete its investigation.” 
SDPC communications director Julie Thompson said that information will be released as soon as possible. As financial records are under review at Liberty High, SDPC administrators hope that the public will be patient and have faith that a thorough investigation is taking place until answers are uncovered.

“What I can say is the board’s budget and annual financial review process of the district has been more thorough and deeper this year,” Saitta said.

The board is holding extra budget meetings to inspect check registries and credit card statements from schools and departments, he said. The board is also meeting with department heads and principals to understand how the money is being spent and why, Saitta said.

“In the past, the board talked with the superintendent and just looked at the budget, which might have items that say something like ‘supplies $100,000,’” Saitta said.

He said board members were examining more details of spending accounts.