D209 Superintendent James Henderson's previous school district is in hot water over a recent financial audit. | File photo

The school district in Mississippi that James Henderson left just prior to being hired as superintendent for Proviso Township High Schools District 209 was just ordered by the state to “cease all financial expenditures” until a financial advisor could be appointed by the state.

The order came after the results of a financial audit and report, covering Henderson’s first year in charge of the district, was released by the Mississippi CPA [Certified Public Accountant] firm Fortenberry & Ballard, PC.

At the Holmes County Consolidated School District’s April 1 board of education meeting, Dr. Felicia Gavin, chief of operations for the Mississippi Department of Education, spoke to the board, referencing a notification letter they had received regarding the latest financial audit, for which Fortenberry & Ballard issued a disclaimer of opinion and found material weaknesses in internal financial controls.

That means, Gavin said, “the district has some serious financial issues.” By law, she said, the state board of education was notified about the district’s financial position.

“If a district is in serious financial condition, the Mississippi Department of Education State Board of Education should and shall appoint a financial advisor to the district,” Gavin said during the meeting. She said she would serve in that position temporarily.

The audit in question is for the year ended June 30, 2019, which includes the time Henderson was superintendent of the Holmes County Consolidated School District. Henderson joined the district in July 2018 and left in June 2020.

The report was issued by the CPA firm on March 17, 2021, and the auditor reported problems in compliance with reporting on federal programs and in internal control.

In terms of federal programs accounting, the auditors issued a disclaimer of opinion “because of the materiality and pervasiveness of the inadequacies in the accounting and financial reporting systems.” Material weaknesses were identified in internal control over major programs, specifically child nutrition and Title I grants to local educational agencies.

The CPA firm also issued a disclaimer of opinion regarding the district’s financial statements, finding material weaknesses over financial reporting.

“During the course of our audit we found multiple discrepancies with the information provided as supporting documentation for the accounting records and other internal control issues,” reads the auditor’s report. These problems include inaccurate or untimely reconciliation of bank accounts, inability of the school district to provide receipts for receivables, inability to provide supporting documentation for accounts payable, and a difference of $690,916 between 941 wages and trial balance in payroll expenditures.

The Review reached out to Henderson asking at what point after beginning at the district he became aware of any already-existing financial issues and what steps he took to remedy them. He did not respond.

This audit is separate from the compliance report completed by the Mississippi Office of the State Auditor, released on Dec. 14, 2020, which also covered time Henderson was employed by the Holmes County Consolidated School District and which, according to a press release from state auditor Shad White, revealed “widespread problems.”

That report was for the year ended June 30, 2020. According to White in the press release, “The public school students of Holmes County and the taxpayers are victims here.”