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Saturday, May 21, 2011

FOIA findings and results

Over the last 14 months I have FOIAed thousands of pages of documents from Clarkston Schools and found plenty to be concerned about. When I have come to administration to confront them about financial documents I have found that have been improper, I have been roundly ignored and/or given disingenuous explanations.

I found and presented evidence to Dr Rock that the woman who runs the Team Rush program for the district, Kyle Hughes, allowed three other people to utilize her district "Purchasing Card" (credit card) to purchase thousands of dollars worth of robotics supplies for the group.  I also presented evidence to Dr. Rock that Kyle Hughes charged 45% of all of the Team Rush field trip expenses to Washington, DC from June of 2009 to various district general fund accounts instead of against the Team Rush (club) account.  As Team Rush is considered a "club" and not a part of curriculum, the expenses for the trip were to have been sourced from the "club" funds.  The school board president, Steve Hyer; the teacher responsible for Team Rush, Kyle Hughes; Kyle's son; and six other Team Rush students went on the trip.  I have received an acknowledgment from Dr. Rock that he has received the letter and that is it...        

I looked forward to the State mandated "transparency reports" this past summer. There is a small icon of a blue circle with the shape of Michigan inside with the words, "Budget and Salary / Compensation Transparency Reporting" on the right side of the home page of the district website located here:  .  Click on that icon and it takes you into the Transparency reports.

All Michigan school districts were obligated to post important financial information on their website to bring some clarity and truthfulness to the public. Unfortunately, some of the district's data was incomplete, missing, or false. I brought multiple issues to administration regarding the incomplete, missing, or false information. The district grudgingly complied with some requests, flat denied others based on their assertion they don't have to put that information on the website, and ignored other requests.

I contacted Glenda Rader at the State of Michigan who is responsible for the Transparency Reports. Glenda confirmed the district had the obligation to supply the information I was asking for. Unfortunately, Glenda also advised that the state mandate has no teeth. The district cannot be fined or cited for failing to supply information, they can only be shamed into supplying it if they have not already supplied the information. Glenda advised me to 1) take it to the district/superintendent. If ignored, 2) take it to the school board on an open meeting. Then, if still denied, 3) take it to the press. I have been denied by administration and ignored by the board, so I have recently created this blog to publicize some of what I have found.

I submitted another FOIA request on 5/12/11. I asked for additional employment contracts and information related to pay and "letters of understanding" against employment contracts. There are currently six employment contracts on the transparency reports (seen here: ).  I am asking for different employment contracts not currently online, but mandated to be on the transparency reports based on the instructions the state put out and sent to the school districts across the state.

Anita Banach, the new human resources director (former public relations director), advised at a recent board meeting that there were multiple "letters of understanding" that the district has against various employment contracts. Anita also advised that the board has never seen them (so the board obviously never approved them). Therefore, the contracts that are on the Transparency Reports are incomplete.

I requested documents from the school district this fall that included the pay (salary or hourly or both) for all district employees via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).    I discovered that one highly paid supervisor was showing his salary of over $100 k, plus he also showed an hourly pay of $95.73/hour (equivalent to $200k/yr as annualized pay).  I had talked to Anita Banach on the phone about it back in December.  Anita surmised it was a problem with the new computer program they were using and that she would get back to me on it...  She never did get back with me and no other employee's pay references on the report had similar problems...  Therefore, I emailed Dr Rock to verify if that hourly amount was a mistake or accurate, and if accurate, under what circumstances the supervisor would be paid the hourly amount.  I also asked Dr. Rock some other questions.  Dr Rock answered the "other" questions, but has steadfastly refused to answer the question about the hourly pay of the supervisor.  At the public comment part of an April board meeting, I brought up the subject again (and received no response from administration).  Anita Banach stood up afterward during the public comment period and admonished me for maligning such a stellar employee (although I never said ANYTHING about the employee - I just wanted administration to tell me if it was correct or not) and then said it was incorrect and was caused by the accounting program mistake and that she had told me that fact back in December.  After the meeting was over I went over to Anita to tell her that she was supposed to get back to me about that, but she never did and that Dr. Rock would not answer the question either...  The then told me, "Neither Dr. Rock, nor I have any obligation to explain anything to you or answer any of your questions." So much for Dr. Rock's collaboration with the public...  I have submitted a new FOIA request that specifically asks for that supervisor employee's employment contract and any and all "letters of understanding" that exist in regard to his employment.  The district has promised a response by May 27, 2011.

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