Knox County Commissioner calls schools account a 'slush fund'

Knox County Commissioner calls schools account a 'slush fund'

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Commissioner Jeff Ownby called for the internal audit of the PPU account, which has around $15 million. Commissioner Jeff Ownby called for the internal audit of the PPU account, which has around $15 million.
"I look forward to the conversation and look forward to the review," Dr. Jim McIntyre said. "I look forward to the conversation and look forward to the review," Dr. Jim McIntyre said.

By SAMANTHA MANNING
6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - The Knox County internal auditor will look into the use of the school district's physical plant upgrade fund after a commissioner claimed the money was not used properly.

Commissioner Jeff Ownby called for the internal audit of the PPU account, which has around $15 million.

Ownby said the PPU fund is meant to go towards fixing issues with existing buildings, like wiring and plumbing.

Instead, Ownby said he discovered that millions of dollars were going towards what he considering inappropriate uses: land purchases and furniture in new school buildings.

"It's the taxpayers' money that's not being used properly," Ownby said.

Ownby outlined his concerns during Monday's commission workshop calling the PPU fund a "slush fund."

His comments prompted Knox County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jim McIntyre to fire back, saying this was the first he has heard of the allegations.

"Rather than going straight to an audit committee meeting and bringing some fairly salacious allegations it would be a nice professional courtesy if myself or the school board heard from county commissioners that had concerns," McIntyre said to Commission.

Finance records for Knox County Schools given to 6 News show that more than $1.6 million was used from the PPU fund for the purchase of land for Northshore Elementary.

Ownby said the problem with that is that commission already approved around $800,000 for the land purchase, meaning more than double the amount allocated was actually used on purchasing the land.

Ownby said money from the PPU was also used to buy furniture, a piano and other band equipment for Northshore Elementary.

"It's not for expansions or anything like that," Ownby said. "Those should have individual line items that take care of that stuff."

"My understanding is that the accounting system that both the county and the Knox County schools system use has a broader category called physical plant upgrades that includes all sorts of things like anything that falls into the capitol plan that's not a major project," McIntyre said.

According to Ownby, the major difference between using the PPU fund and listing the expenses as line items in the budget is that money left over from the line items would go back to the county. He said unused money in the PPU fund stays there.

"In a PPU account it can stay in there forever," Ownby said. "Regular businesses don't do that. They have to go to their board or their executives to get approval to move money from one account to another. There's processes to do and they haven't been following those processes."

"I look forward to the conversation and look forward to the review," McIntyre said.

The Knox County internal auditor said it could take 4 to 6 weeks before a preliminary audit report is complete.

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