Communication gaps, a lack of supervision and incomplete training played a part in how a $400,000 culinary arts project advanced without school board approval, Knox County Schools Superintendent Bob Thomas states in a preliminary report.
Several board members last month told 10News they were frustrated and bewildered that the project to build and equip the Karns High School culinary arts project went through without their blessing. It also moved ahead of another project at Austin-East High School, which spurred additional criticism.
Thomas in an Oct. 6 letter to school board members said an investigation continues. He told board members this week at their meeting that he took ultimate responsibility for what happened.
"I anticipate personnel recommendations will be forthcoming," Thomas wrote in the report.
Don Lawson, director of Career and Technical Education, or CTE, over whose supervision the program operated, has been on unpaid leave since last summer for unspecified reasons.
CTE oversees programs to teach students job skills they may use in lieu of going to a four-year college.
Discussions to start a culinary arts program at Karns started in February 2016. As the months progressed, the project gained momentum, state permits were sought and invoices were paid. Equipment was purchased - correctly - to go along with the project.
Some steps and procedures, however, were not properly followed.
For example, money was committed to building the project without school board approval. A contractor began work in June, although a purchase order for the 2017 budget year hadn't been approved. The contractor got a purchase order that was supposed to be a commitment for budget year 2018, Thomas' report states.
Also, Lawson prepared a purchase "requisition" for an architect's services that was then converted to a purchase "order," the report states. The paperwork didn't go through the correct steps, and Lawson should have included a "letter of explanation" to show why regulations weren't followed, according to the report.
In addition, the preliminary investigation found, more control needs to be exercised over separating who does what when seeking procurement of goods and services.
"In the absence of segregation of duties, the risk of non-compliant behavior increases," the report states.
Lastly, the review found that the culinary arts project should have been included in the system's capital improvement plan. The project involved enough money and change that it merited placement in the capital plan.
Although the work was not included in the budget, money has been found to cover the cost, Thomas told board members on Monday.
"I believe the primary underlying problem was the CTE Department took responsibility for this project, including the management of the construction," Thomas wrote this week in his summary letter. "It should have been designated as a capital project and managed by the Facilities Department. There were a number of missed opportunities to put this project on the right track."