Shelby Co. Commissioner wants more transparency from school district on CARES Act spending

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A Shelby County Commissioner questions how the school district is spending federal CARES Act funding.

“If I ask somebody from Shelby County Schools what is 1 + 1, I don’t want a paragraph for an answer. I  want a clear, consistent response,” said Commissioner Edmund Ford Jr.

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Ford said he’s been crunching the numbers for virtual learning. He said the school district presented the city council with one set of expenses for digital devices and then another set to commissioners.

“When I add these and I try to figure out the configurations, I cannot get the dollar amount that were in the other presentations,” he said.

Before commissioners approved a $750,000 grant for headsets and other digital accessories to a fiscal agent Monday night, Ford said he wanted more transparency from the district.

“When grown people at 160 Hollywood are making egregious errors and giving us powerpoints and hoping we don’t have conversation with other bodies, this is what we get,” said Ford during the meeting Monday night. “I’m putting them on notice and I hope we can start looking at what they’re actually doing.”

FOX13 took his comments directly to the district.

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SCS Chief of Communications Jerica Phillips said she didn’t have a response to Ford’s statement.

She said the district used a majority of its CARES Act funding to buy new digital devices for every student.

“This was a thought from our superintendent and our board to say can we purchase a headset for every student so, of course, it was not budgeted,” said Phillips.

Phillips said it cost about a million dollars to buy a headset for every student and the district asked for donations from the community to help them make the purchase.

Related: Thousands of SCS students haven’t logged in to virtual class, SCS says

“We know we are doing our due diligence and we understand that we will be criticized about the things you have not done or have not purchased but for certain what we wanted to do is something that no one across the country has done is implement, access for all equity plan that could be done in a matter of weeks due to the pandemic,” said Phillips.

But Ford said the math doesn’t add up.

“My concern is what are going to be the other asks that are going to come in front of us without them specifically giving us what these items entail,” said Ford. “And the last thing, I want to see from the Shelby County Schools because it should be all about the kids, I don’t want the narrative to be look at the hand over here while some people may be doing something else other here with the other hand.”

Ford said he wants to review SCS spending of CARES funding during the next commissioner committee meeting.