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Thursday, July 29, 2010

$54 Per Person

KING-5 tv did a news story about one finding in the State Auditor's report. This was under the finding about the credit card usage specifically, Dr. Goodloe-Johnson's credit card. She charged $3800 on her card for catering a retirement party. The audit singled it out because it was "an inappropriate use of [procurement] cards" and it was over her daily per transaction limit of $1,000. Dr. Goodloe-Johnson was aware of these issues as she had signed an MOU acknowledging them before she got the card.

Background:

David Westberg of Local 609 wrote this to Harium on this subject:

In an earlier time of accountability and eyes on the bottom line, the Chief Finance Officer wrote the following to the Senior Leadership Team on March 9, 2004;

“As we continue to look for ways to save on costs, expenses on food, muffins, coffee, lunches, and snacks should be curtailed. In tight budget times, we need to save our limited resources to protect services to students, not expend them on meals and food for staff. Therefore, buying food for staff with district funds (grant or non-grant) should be stopped”

This was sent out to augment the “Guidelines for Catering Services” which had been negotiated with District Food Services (Catering Department) employees giving “Nutrition Services priority for providing all catering services both in the JSCEE building and in school sites for non-district and District sponsored business activities, during all operation hours including weekends…………..Catering requests for all District sponsored business activities must have the approval from the accounting manager to use grant or district funds, including self help funds before Nutrition Service will accept orders.”

The policy goes on to say;

“All bills received from outside food vendors will be double checked for proof of approval from Nutrition Services. If bills cannot be reconciled to pre-approved documentation, the bills will not be paid. Un-approved food orders will become the responsibility of the individual ordering the food.”

KING 5 is correct that these functions are held yearly but are normally paid for by the Seattle Schools Veterans Association. Last years was held at the Lake City Elks and was paid for by the Association.

I do understand honoring long-time employees who have spent their career with our district. But there was a past tradition of how this celebration was handled. Why it changed is a mystery. I suspect it may have been because there were a few higher up administrators honored among the group rather than regular line employees.

According to KING-5, the party hosted 70 people. So doing the math, $3800 divided by 70 people and that's $54 a person. Most catering, unless it is for a very fancy wedding or event, does not cost $54 a person. It's certainly would not seem the norm for a school district retirement party. And, we have a policy in place about using outside vendors which does not seem to have been followed.

In the overall scheme of things is the $3800 a big deal? No. But what is a big deal is that there are people in our district who tell us all schools must tighten their belts and we seem to have money for whatever they deem important. As Meg Diaz' points out, there are many schools for whom $3800 would be a lot of money to put towards a good use.

There are people in this district who are not following policies and regulations almost to the point of disregard. If we cannot trust that the management and oversight are happening in this district, then I am prepared to say that this is likely the tip of an iceberg.

Thank you to Dave and Meg for their work on this story and the alert from Parent of Three.

Oh and this was the last line of the KING-5 TV story: The district declined comment today.

23 comments:

ParentofThree said...

You're right $3800 is not a big deal. It's the attitude of entitlement that astounds me.

And you're right, tip of the iceberg.


And we are stuck with this for three more years.


Funny, if they had been inline with what the regular peeps pay to cater an event, around $15-$20/pp for a lunch, the bill would have been $1050 - $1400 and the auditor would not have taken issue.

Makes me a bit ill....

Charlie Mas said...

There were a number of violations of policy and prudent practice around this event. I keep thinking that if there had just been three more people with District credit cards at the event they could have each put $950 on their cards and stayed under the $1,000 limit. If they had, it would still have been wrong, but the auditor would not have found it or mentioned it.

So what makes us think that something like that didn't happen? Why do we assume that $3,800 was the full and total cost of the event? How do we know that there weren't other expenses paid for this event on a separate charge?

And the cost! $54 per person! Did everyone get the surf and turf?

Jet City mom said...

As a parent I try and set a good example for my kids and the kids in my community.

The CEO of a business, the president of a country and the superintendent of a district has the same rights and responsibility to lead.
Taking advantage of a position is not responsible behavior.

SPS mom said...

Old news for some, but this is from the Newsless Courier blog in Charleston (6/2/2007):

Friday night was Goodloe-Johnson's going-away-party at the Charleston Yacht Club, but going away wasn't the focus of the article. No, it focused on "three recipients of multimillion- dollar contracts with the Charleston County School District [who] collectively contributed $7,000 for" the party. Goodloe-Johnson was not amused. She must have been shocked to get probing questions from Courrege: in fact, she called such questions "'tacky'." That's as in "lacking good taste"?

Most people would call these contributions kickbacks; they have nothing to do with good taste but are, in some corrupt circles, considered a cost of doing business. The biggest contributor to the party's costs provides custodial services to three-fourths of the constituent districts. It has a multi-million dollar contract that could be extended, especially if it's nice to the administration. Two other companies are "construction management firms for the district's building program." Their "program management" fees total about $17 million over the next few years. What's a minor payment when so much is at stake?

And Don Kennedy's defense: "most of the district's major contractors make donations to the district. School officials who work with the companies asked them to give money for the event."

Well, that's clear, then. Those donations CERTAINLY couldn't be considered kickbacks!

And to cement the soundness of the practice, Kennedy pointed out that the district did the same for Ron McWhirt.

Oh, well then. If they did it in the past, it MUST be okay.

"Kennedy said the district doesn't solicit money from companies that could soon be submitting contract proposals to the district, and he didn't see the donations as a conflict."

Well, he wouldn't, would he? After all, he doesn't see it as a conflict of interest that he sits on the audit committee that selects the auditing firm that audits himself.

They must still be searching for the tattler who told Ravenel where the funds came from. Unfortunately, Ravenel, who chose not to attend as a result, was the only board member who did see the conflict, or as he said, "'It doesn't pass the smell test.' It's difficult for companies that do business with political entities to turn down requests for money for events."

Well, duh. I wonder what the other board members thought.

ParentofThree said...

Sounds like they have simply taken their show on the road where here in Seattle we all have a front row seat.

Sahila said...

SPS Mom... I think you would be doing the Board a service by bringing the Charleston event to their notice... and to the Auditor and to the A-G for Education, and to the press....

If you do want to do that and need help passing it along those channels, let me know...

Anonymous said...

As for an attitude of entitlement, please recall that in Charleston MG-J was faulted for giving her mother a cell phone at public expense. That was only discovered as part of an audit limited to the school district's cell phone contracts. That audit eventually saved the district more than a half million a year and recovered the cost of MG-J mom's phone, too. Another half million a we could begin to eliminate teacher furloughs.

We're still trying to have a total audit like Seattle's to begin to recover the rest of the waste. How much more could be saved actually, we don't know.

Charleston parent said...

By the way, what triggered the audit of Seattle schools?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Nothing triggered it; it was just a review that gets done regularly. That is one good thing that this state does is try to track public money.

I sent off a public records request on the event so we have some more information.

One key thing that I didn't know before is that this was NOT the regular retirees party. That one is organized by the Seattle Schools Veterans Assn. and they usually get money donated plus money from their membership and members had to pay to attend.

So who this was for, where it was, who organized and did it get run through any of the district protocols for catered events is yet to be known. I did ask a lot of questions including Charlie's question about other costs.

I'm sensing a big whoops here and that someone is likely to be paying back money to the district here. l

dan dempsey said...

Hey but wait......

is this not day-to-day operations in the Goodloe-Johnson era?

Really no one is supposed to be commenting on this as ONLY the Strategic Plan is used to evaluated the superintendent.

I've got this document from Nov 28, 2007 that says so.

Now .. Puhleeze ....back away from harassing our Queen.

wseadawg said...

This is what you get with the paradigm currently in place with our rubber stamp board. Rubber Stamp Board = Administrators and their minions DRUNK WITH POWER.

The only way these things occur is when the prevailing mindset of those committing the offenses is "We're Untouchables."

MGJ speaking about "accountability" is like Lucifer reading the Ten Commandments. Volcanoes should erupt and clocks should spin backwards, it's so hypocritically wrong and offensive.

Why don't we dispense with the flag salute at the Board meetings and just salute a Stalin-like banner of MGJ giving us the middle finger? Which better represents reality?

Sahila said...

I dont do the flag/pledge thing anyway... have 2 nationalities and 2 additional permanent residencies - to which am I supposed to pledge allegiance?

I dont believe in nationalities, borders, flags, pledges, anthems, patriotism...

"I have no country to fight for; my country is the earth, and I am a citizen of the world.”
Eugene Debs

Anonymous said...

"I dont believe in nationalities, borders, flags, pledges, anthems, patriotism..."

Boo.......

:)

Megan Mc said...

I wish someone would audit the district's finances to check on the promised savings from transportation reductions, uniform start times, school closures, RIFS.

Sahila said...

Amen to Megan's comment!

Melissa Westbrook said...

Well Megan, just so you know, there are people from different government offices who read this blog and that would include the Auditor's office.

That said, I'm not sure they audit for "promises". I think that the Board would have to ask for that and ask, in real, directed dollars, where the savings is and where those saved dollars go.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Charlie Mas said...

The last reported budget for all of the technology at STEM was $700,000 - $900,000. But the Board voted to spend $1 million so every student at STEM can have their own laptop computer. They seemed to do it pretty blithely.

On his blog, Director Martin-Morris claimed that the Board made a tough choice when they decided to blow that budget. He did not, however, say what the choice was. He didn't say what initiative didn't get funded to come up with the additional $100,000 to $300,000 for STEM.

Likewise, no one said where the money was coming from to put $88,000 of District general fund cash towards the Native American program after the District blew the grant.

For all of the talk about austerity and having a hard time balancing the budget, there never seems to be any trouble coming up with cash when the District wants to. And there certainly isn't any mention about what lost funding to make these things happen.

If you don't know what lost the funding, then you didn't really make a choice - let alone a tough one.

Sahila said...

http://seattleducation2010.wordpress.com/2010/07/30/dr-goodloe-johnson-and-money/#comment-144

Melissa Westbrook said...

1) I took out a comment from an yet another Anonymous - kids, I mean it. No anonymous posts.

2) what that person did say was that the party honored 70 people and maybe it was more people so maybe the $54 figure is wrong. I looked at Meg Coyle's story and her wording is a little ambiguous - "The party hosted 70 people."

So does that mean honored 70 people or had 70 people - I have a call into her.

I think Charlie's question is valid, though. Is the $3800 the final cost? Was there a facility rental fee? Staffing fee? I'll find out when I get the public disclosure info back (which should be in, oh, about 2 months.

SC Parent said...

I'm sure this dollar amount falls outside of any procurement process, but I wonder who was the caterer and what is their relationship with the board, super, school district, etc?

Melissa Westbrook said...

SC, more on that later but good thought.

D. Ebt Relief said...

I got a message from your blog that we must be get full knowledge about the credit cards which we are using rather then to feel any suffering at the last.