Sunday, June 1, 2014

It's for the children

From the annals of Oklahoma's underfunded schools, comes now this news from the Dickson school district in southern Oklahoma, which was recently the subject of an audit by the state auditor and inspector's office. From an excellent editorial today in The Oklahoman:
Reviewing records from July 1, 2011, to Oct. 1, 2013, the audit found the school was paying staff members to drive to Oklahoma City to hand deliver paper copies of teacher contracts to the state Department of Education. Then staff members would eat at locations such as the Cheesecake Factory, paying for meals with a district credit card.

Sherry Howe, who served as Dickson's superintendent from 1996 until she resigned on Oct. 1, 2013, told auditors she wanted staff to travel to Oklahoma City to obtain written proof of receipt from the Department of Education.

“The necessity of these trips is questionable and attendance of three-to-five employees per trip may appear excessive,” the audit notes (emphasis added). “A phone call or email to the Department of Education possibly could be used to collect information. Several postal options are also available that provide proof of delivery.”

Then there's the $485 spent on food at a special Dickson school board meeting — held in Oklahoma City. That meeting's agenda was posted in compliance with state law, but the audit notes Oklahoma law also requires public bodies to meet at “places which are convenient to the public.”

“A meeting held over 100 miles from the school district would appear to be 'inconvenient' for district citizens,” the audit dryly notes.

District officials topped that with a one-night planning session for administrators in 2013 — held at the Gaylord Texan Resort near Dallas. That cost $1,842, including meals (although the figure doesn't account for transportation expenses). Howe told auditors she “selected the Gaylord because she was considering using this hotel for a future board retreat.”

The audit found “minimal evidence” school policy was enforced regarding use of district-owned vehicles. Dickson's Chevy Suburban was driven more than 14,000 undocumented miles. School vans were driven nearly 6,800 undocumented miles. Of six vehicles reviewed, only 47 percent of the total miles driven were documented as required by school policy. Less than 10 percent of miles driven in the Suburban, which the audit notes was “used most often by administration and individuals” like Howe, was documented in compliance with school policy.

Howe's reward for these questionable uses of limited school funds was the highest salary of any superintendent in Carter County — $146,685 to head a school district with a 2013 enrollment of 1,341 students.

No comments: