PEORIA, IL -- The presumed ousting of a popular Peoria School District 150 principal, the delisting of Peoria security officers as police, and the threat to Peoria Studium were issues of concern to a huge and lively crowd at the District 150 School Board meeting on Jan. 13.
Fifteen people spoke during the public comments section.
Here is a recording of their comments (the sound quality is poor because of the microphones used in the gym) :
A majority reacted to a board attorney's report on popular Principal John Wetteraur at Charter Oak School, who was placed on paid administrative leave after the board announced it was investigating testing irregularities at the school.
They spoke after a board attorney presented a long awaited report on the investigation, saying that an examination of the test scores of 26 special education students from 2010-13 revealed they had received "inappropriate assistance" when they took state-required tests, so that their scores were too high, compared with the scores they earned later at Mark Bills Middle School.
The principal failed to train the teachers to give the tests, she said, and didn't provide oversight over the test process and the test results.
Those who had signed up in advance to speak to the board quickly found flaws in the presentation.
The principal was unfairly singled out, a parent said. Others said the investigation was not impartial, since it was done by the board attorney.
"Lawyers present cases for the people who pay them," said activist Terry Knapp, who also noted that superintendents elsewhere have gone to jail over cheating scandals.
Activist Mimi McDonald told the board that special education pupils have so many variables that comparisons are difficult. "I'd like to know what the investigators know about special education," she said. She also criticized the board for not asking questions after the report was presented.
A man who said he turns around failing organizxations said he's concerned about an "atmosphere of fear in District 150" where people are afraid to speak up. "It's tiime for this superintendent and her reign of terror to end," he said.
Another man noted that the teachers should give special help to special education students. "The population (of 26 students) is too small, test more schools," he said.
Former principal Bob Carruthers spoke in favor of the school security officers who have been delisted as police. He expressed concern about school safety, and said taking away their guns is like denying teachers the technology they need.
Rick Kirkbride said he learned that Peoria high schools will not be playing football at Peoria Stadium next year, and that plans are moving forward to build or expand stadiums at the three high schools, at more than twice the cost of renovating Peoria Stadium. He said the plan is a waste of public funds.
Activist Sharon Crews presented a devastating report on the district's credit (purchase) cards, saying that $1 million has been spent on them without board approval. The amount includes $132,000 on 780 food transactions. "What is the justification for spending education money on feeding highly paid employees?" she asked.
The card documents also show $28,000 spent in sales taxes, when the district is exempt from having to pay sales taxes. Her report will be attached below.
-- Elaine Hopkins
Here are the comments from Crews:
Tonight many have gathered again to protest the treatment of Dr. Lathan’s latest victim. We are finally becoming a connected community—the “No man is an island kind.” So many among us have become the targets of what seems to be a series of personal vendettas. Let our protests tonight be for John and all the others punished for reasons we do not understand. I want to add the campus police whose lives have been disrupted for reasons that seem more subjective than objective.
My own focus has lately turned to the disrespect shown to the taxpayers of this community. This board’s first mistake was allowing so many people with no ties or loyalty to District 150 to come to town to squander our money in very dubious ways.
The money spent by only 34 of the 54 procurement cardholders totals over one million dollars on purchases without any evidence of direct board approval. I fear that many have unwittingly been caught in a questionable spending spree, encouraged by a plan sold by Dr. Lathan to this board on August 23, 2010—possibly the first act in her efforts to control the money, as well as the people of this District.
Please consider that those who have spent the most are those who have no real reason to care about the future of this District.
The $132,000 spent on 780 food transactions ranging from $3.89 to $4,900 was charged to the P-cards of 34 employees—and I have little doubt that much of that spending was orchestrated by someone other than the persons who made the charges. Remember these cards are the superintendent’s replacement for a purchasing department.
It is my understanding that every purchase made by the District should correspond to a line item of the budget. Where does each of these 780 transactions fit into the budget? What is the justification for spending education money on feeding most often the highest paid employees of the District? How many hours of work time were spent shopping for this food and eating it?
About $81,000 was spent for furnishings and products for cosmetology—a worthy enough cause but, also, Dr. Lathan’s pet project.
The remaining $928,000 was spent for travel expenses, a variety of educational programs and supplies, and retail shopping at Best Buy, Office Depot, Wal-Mart, Office Max, Menards, Sam’s, Hobby Lobby, Bergner’s, Kohl’s, florists, Target, Walgreen’s.
Many questions beg for answers:
I am not cynical enough to believe that employees have made personal purchases. However, a system with so little oversight could demand a level of proof never required by a legitimate purchasing department.
Is a principal’s P-Card an opportunity for favorites to be rewarded? Who receives the stuff that the Wisconsin Avenue administrators purchase? Who is being rewarded for what?
I am curious as to why the three high school principals spent almost no money on food or on retail shopping, but some principals spend much money on both.
How many of these cardholders receive “requests” from the superintendent to use their cards for particular items? It seems that many of these purchases were meant to be under the radar—not reported in the manner specified by board policy.
Why did card holders spend so much money on taxes when the District has a tax-exempt status? A total of almost $28,000 was spent on taxes with $12,000 in taxes paid to local merchants. The policy clearly indicates the superintendent is the overseer of P-card spending and, as such, should have sent out clear messages about taxes. Also, policy states that anyone who spends over $500 on a single purchase needs special permission from the superintendent.
(They rang the bell before I read this:)
So far I have checked only 8 people’s cards and have found 60 purchases over $500. Also, policy states that no more than $1000 monthly can be spent by any cardholder without authorization from the Superintendent—that’s a joke. Granting permission could be a time-consuming task.
These cards provide opportunities for all manner of favoritism and unfairness and certainly a lack of transparency. The buck stops with one person and the seven who support her.
Here is the PJS story on the meeting.