State takes over Earle school district, citing ‘unallowable spending’

EARLE, Arkansas — The state has taken over the Earle School District after finding what administrators called substantial audit violations and unallowable expenses over the last two academic years.

According to the Arkansas Department of Education, a review of the district found almost $2 million in unallowable spending of state and federal funds beginning in the 2015-16 school year. Corrections to the budget were not made, the state says, and the spending continued into the current academic year.

The Earle School District was classified by the state as being in fiscal distress Oct. 17, and the district did not appeal.

District Superintendent Rickey Nicks has resigned and the state has named Dr. Richard Wilde, with the Arkansas Department of Education School Improvement Unit, as district superintendent. The school board was allowed to remain in place in an advisory capacity to the new superintendent.

Violations the state says it found in a review of the district’s finances include:

• Inaction to implement state guidance to correct the district’s budget and improper spending practices;

• Poor fiscal management procedures;

• Improper reporting of activity funds;

• Current expenditures that exceeded revenues;

• Inaccurate fund balances;

• Nonpayment to vendors;

• Outstanding debts; and

• Issues with payroll and employee contracts.

A legislative audit will begin conducting an audit of the district’s finances.

In addition to fiscal issues, the state noted multiple violations of Standards of Accreditation involving student transcripts, teacher assignments and special education teacher certification.

“Ongoing input and guidance from parents and the community is essential during this transition,” Arkansas Department of Education Commissioner Johnny Key said. “I want every student and parent to know that buses will continue to run and school will be in session as we work to restore fiscal integrity in the district.”

The Earle School District operates an elementary school and high school in Crittenden County.

The district’s administrative office did not want to comment Monday.