ARC's 1st Law: As a "progressive" online discussion grows longer, the probability of a nefarious reference to Karl Rove approaches one

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

We Must Invest in Public EducationTM

I mean, how else are those poor teachers going to get their all-expenses paid trips to San Francisco, Las Vegas, South Africa, etc?

From the St Louis Post-Dispatch:

Pedicures and Pinot Grigio
Wednesday, Jun. 06 2007

Sometimes numbers speak louder than words. The spending scandal in the
Riverview Gardens school system is a case in point.

A Post-Dispatch analysis of the district's accounting records found that school board members and district employees spent at least $1.7 million on travel in less than four years. That's more than some districts twice its size spend on travel. The district sent almost 600 teachers, staff members, principals, administrators and board members on more than 100 trips to at least 60 cities, from the Lake of the Ozarks to New York to San Francisco to Cape Town, South Africa.

Those numbers scream fiscal irresponsibility and personal greed.

For their analysis, Post-Dispatch reporters David Hunn and Jaimi Dowdell pieced together district credit card statements, receipts, reimbursements, checks and expense advances. The total bill, they said, was almost impossible to tally
because the records were a mess.

Missouri state auditors released a report in March admonishing the district for wasting millions of dollars and for overpaying $150,000 to personal accounts of former Superintendent Henry Williams. The Post-Dispatch analysis linked him to 44 trips over four years.

But it wasn't Mr. Williams alone who was helping himself to district travel funds. Others gleefully shoved their hands into the cookie jar. Over four years, eight board members went on at least 100 trips, sometimes staying at posh resorts. District guidelines limit meal expenses to $40 a day, but at times, school leaders enjoyed $8 glasses of Pinot Grigio, $28 entrees of rock shrimp and $10 servings of creme brulée. In one case, a principal and a school board member billed the district for $50 pedicures.

In November of last year, the district spent $30,000 to send 15 people to Dallas. In July 2005, the district spent $36,000 to send eight people to Harvard's Institute for School Leadership. The day that group returned, more than 40 others set off for Las Vegas on a trip that cost at least $38,000.

Mr. Williams' personal itinerary reads like excerpts from Paris Hilton's travel diary: the Enchantment Resort in Sedona, Ariz.; the Ritz-Carlton in New Orleans and the Hilton in Reno, Nev. In one of the more outrageous examples of selfishness, Mr. Williams arrived two days before a July 2004 conference was scheduled to start and jetted to Jackson, Wyo. There he rented a car, drove 165 miles and billed the district for food — often for two meals at one sitting — including snacks inside Yellowstone National Park. He returned to St. Louis two days before the four-day conference ended.

Adding insult to injury, district staff received training that they didn't get a chance to use. Teacher Debby Jackson said she was sent to Orlando for training three different times at a total cost of more than $10,000. But once she became certified, the district didn't allow many opportunities for her to teach others what she had learned. School Board President Marlene Terry and Mr. Williams were often missing from conference workshops, some board members said.

The board removed Mr. Williams from his position in March, but he remains on the district payroll. He subsequently was arrested and has been charged with theft of $100,000 from the district and attempting to evade income taxes. A new chief financial officer, Cedric Lewis, is trying to clean up the mess. The
district has hired an independent team of forensic auditors, which is poring over the documents. Last fall, Mr. Lewis stopped dispensing cash advances, began accurately tracking expenses and cracked down on inappropriate spending. We hope the gravy train has been derailed.
Good to know you can be removed from your position, charged with theft, and still get your paycheck.
Unfortunately, some who took part in the free spending still haven't seen the error of their ways. "I've been on his board for nine years. I've probably traveled 60 times," Ms. Terry said. "So what?"

Only one school board member, Gilda Hester, said she regretted her part in the spree.

District lawyers should pursue charges against every arrogant, greedy person who misspent district money and demand restitution.

Other school districts can learn from the Riverview Gardens fiasco: Know where every dollar is being spent. When the numbers talk, listen.
Now, the P-D isn't going to disparage the entire public education system, with its layers of bureaucracy (which reduces money spent in the classroom) and the union protection racket which protects the worst performing teachers. Of course, if some business scofflaws use company funds for personal reasons (see Hollinger Intl), it's an indictment on the entire, "under-regulated" capitalist system.

Here's some more info from the summary of the State Auditor's document on Riverview Gardens that you may find interesting:
The Riverview Gardens School District's financial condition has declined significantly in the past year and based on the amended fiscal year 2007 budget, is expected to further deteriorate. The operating funds balance at June 30, 2005 was $12.4 million and is projected to be only $1.6 million at June 30, 2007. School districts with an operating funds balance of less than three percent of the operating funds expenditures are considered "financially stressed" per state law. In addition, the district has been classified as "Provisionally Accredited" by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, as the district has not met enough standards and indicators to be accredited.
So, in addition to pillaging the budget, the "administrators" and "teachers" aren't exactly spending their time instructing the students. Not what you want to see in terms of ROI.
During the four year, six month period ended December 31, 2006, the superintendent was apparently overpaid by approximately $158,400. [ED - still on the payroll.] From December 2004 to August 2006, the superintendent received 12 unauthorized salary advancesand received various other salary amounts totaling $2,000 that were not approved by the board. In addition, the district paid interest totaling approximately $39,000 on the superintendent's personal loans against his insurance policies during the three years ended June 30, 2006. Also, car allowances paid to the superintendent exceeded the amount authorized by his employment contracts by $6,300 during the three year, six month period ended December 31, 2006.

The superintendent carried forward more vacation days than allowed by his contract and was paid $27,551 for 45 vacation days in June 2005 and $26,122 for 40 vacation days in February 2006. The payments were approved by the board president, but were not submitted to the full board for approval.

The district over funded the superintendent's annuity by $15,000 for the year ended June 30, 2006. In addition, the district paid approximately $42,500 more for the superintendent's insurance premiums than required by the contract and untaxed contributions to the superintendent's tax sheltered annuities appear to exceed limits established by the IRS.

Original budgets approved by the board were not accurate and complete, reasons for budget amendments were not clearly documented, and the district’s final actual operating funds disbursements exceeded budgeted amounts by $5.7 million for the year ended June 30, 2006. The original budget for fiscal year 2007 underestimated disbursements and had to be amended for corrections in November 2006. Concerns regarding financial records and reporting include monthly financial reports being inaccurate, coding disbursements to whatever area had funds remaining in the budget, not posting checks on a timely basis, and in June 2006, knowingly issuing checks in excess of the accounts payable bank account balance.

There were numerous concerns regarding bidding and contracts. Several purchases were not competitively bid or competitive requests for proposals were not obtained, including: alternative education services, $2,020,188; custodial equipment and supplies, $410,743; classroom learning materials, $364,034; and educational software, $250,000 to name a few. Board minutes did not document the reasons for rejecting the lowest bid for a construction project, written contracts were not properly executed with some vendors and some contracts were not approved by the board. Additionally, requests for proposals were not adequately planned. On February 23, 2005, the board approved a $1.3 million contract for energy management services for three schools. Eleven days later, a change order for $736,000 was approved to add eight more buildings to the contract.

The district paid approximately $43,000 to a moving company owned by a board member's father and the district hired relatives of a board member and an administrator in violation of board policy. The district has not established adequate procedures for identifying related parties.

During the two years ended June 30, 2006, charges totaling approximately $240,000 were made on the district's credit cards. Receipts were missing for 42 of the 48 monthly credit card statements reviewed. Additionally, board members and the superintendent did not account for cash advances and did not return or account for unused funds. Also, some disbursements do not appear to be reasonable uses of public funds including: $7,000 for artwork and print framing for art in individual offices, $4,900 for lodging, meals, and refreshments for a two-day board retreat held in Hermann, Missouri and $1,180 for the superintendent's four subscriptions to a local theatre company. Finally, software training sessions totaling $41,625 were not supported by a written contract.
Yikes! I seem to recall the P-D complaining about having Boards of Directors in companies that were too "buddy-buddy" to CEOs a few days ago. It seems to me that the School Board of Riverview saw the taxpayers' money as a great way to enrich themselves.

And let's not forget the results of this inept school district. Riverview Gardens is not making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) under No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Of course, "progressives" and their rubes in the teachers' unions continue to complain that NCLB isn't adequately funded (despite the unprecedented level of federal government spending in education, almost doubling their "investment"). If this is what more money in education leads to, then perhaps we should see what happens when we spend less.

If we ever do move to a choice-based education system, I think one requirement to participate would be to have open financial records.

And why is it that "progressives" are so un-progressive and anti-choice when it comes to education, again? Well, when their education policy (and its results) are combined with their anti-growth environmentalism, I would have to say that their main goal is keep the poorest and least educated from ever succeeding in this world.

Your Co-Conspirator,
ARC: St Wendeler

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