Residents demand answers about superintendent's gas use

·2 min read

May 10—VALDOSTA — A man questioned the county school superintendent's fuel usage Monday during the school board meeting.

During the May 8 Lowndes County Board of Education meeting, Steve Nichols spoke for a group that stood behind him to share their concerns.

"It has been stated that nobody cares and nobody shows up to speak so I am here today to speak on behalf of the more than 1,200 individuals who have contacted my platforms and said the school board should answer ... the public's questions," said Nichols, referring to his social media outlet.

In March, The Valdosta Daily Times reported that Lowndes County Superintendent Shawn Haralson filled up his pickup truck and an auxiliary tank in the bed of the truck with gasoline at the fuel depot on multiple occasions.

The Times also reported that public records show the board paid a total of $3,832.50 in attorney fees to investigate the school superintendent's use of the county fueling station.

The board of education launched the third-party investigation in January.

After the investigation, Haralson agreed to pay $2,800 to cover the cost of the gasoline. The school board took no disciplinary action.

The memorandum agreement between Haralson and the Lowndes County Board of Education indicated the investigator and the board did not believe the superintendent intentionally took gas he was not entitled to.

In April, the Times reported the Georgia Bureau of Investigation is investigating fuel usage by the Lowndes County Schools superintendent.

The GBI investigation followed numerous tips that a community group of concerned parents and residents worked with a local attorney to circulate a petition to present to Lowndes County Sheriff Ashley Paulk calling for an investigation into fuel usage by Haralson.

"The Lowndes County taxpayer paid almost $4,000 for an investigation and what we are being told is that we will receive no analysis of his (Haralson) taking of the fuel from the bus stop, Hahira depot or credit card purchases all over South Georgia," Nichols said.

"With over 1,200 gallons of gasoline pumped in his Dodge Ram in over six months, and over 500 gallons of diesel pumped in five-and-a-half months in his Ford flatbed farm truck with an estimated total of $6,000 ... you mean to tell me he is only responsible for $2,800?"

Nichols said he submitted several open records requests regarding paperwork from the third-party investigation held early this year the response was that "no records exist."

"Any other Lowndes County Schools employee would be fired. What kind of example does this set for our teachers, staff, our community and most importantly the students graduating two weeks from now," he said.

The Lowndes County School Board released an unsigned statement March 21, backing the superintendent and the board's final decision.