A week after telling Fauquier County School Board members that she had uncovered examples of poor bookkeeping by county officials, the new school comptroller was unable to produce examples.
At a news conference Monday, Susan E.C. Riley said the schools' books are balanced, though she still believes that county accountants are classifying certain expenses improperly. She said she could not verify that because she did not know whether county officials had filled out the proper forms to authorize the disputed classifications.
"There was some miscommunication about that," Riley said.
Riley was hired in July by a School Board unhappy with the financial data it was receiving from officials who answer to the Board of Supervisors and Fauquier County Administrator G. Robert Lee. At Monday's news conference, Riley said she still believes it is possible that payroll checks are being cut for people who are no longer on the payroll.
"I haven't had the time to investigate," she told a School Board member who asked about the ghost-payroll allegations Riley made last week.
In an interview after the news conference, Riley said, "The chance certainly does exist, but that doesn't mean it does exist."
At the news conference, which was attended by School Superintendent Dallas M. Johnson, Riley said she had uncovered three errors in the schools' payroll, including one instance in which someone was overpaid $11,000. But she declined a request by reporters to provide documentation of an overpayment.
Meanwhile, county officials expressed concern that Riley is producing misleading reports for the School Board as it prepares for budget talks this fall.
"Her reports are diverging more and more from reality," said John Tuohy, county finance director. "There is the danger that they are getting the wrong impression about how much money they have spent."
Tuohy said Riley was incorrectly counting transfers of money within categories as expenditures.
"In accounting, it doesn't only matter how much you have left in your account. It also matters how much you did or did not spend," he said.
Lee said Riley's making claims without substantiation was reprehensible.
Johnson said that at this point, "everybody has a vested interest in fixing the situation and not fixing blame."
The document Riley prepared for School Board members, and released to reporters Monday, was created from data provided by Tuohy's department.
That data, not Riley's document, are the official financial records for the schools.
At the news conference, Riley said that her report showed how certain line items within categories for the schools' $73 million budget are showing negative balances, a practice that she said gives School Board members the incorrect impression about how much money is available.
"It is highly unusual that there would be that many negative accounts," she said in an interview.
Several specialists in public finance said that is commonplace. "That's just for internal purposes and control, and that's okay," said James Falconer, senior manager for the Government Finance Officers Association of America and Canada.
School Board Finance Committee Chairman John E. Williams (Center) said he will look at Tuohy's and Riley's reports when making financial decisions, though he said he is concerned about the discrepancies.
"Something doesn't jibe here," he said.
Tuohy said he was vexed at Riley's unsupported claims: "I don't have time to be chasing fairies at the bottom of the garden," he said.