PEORIA,. IL -- The public comments at the Peoria District 150 School Board meeting on Sept. 8 didn't tell even half of the story.
Instead the activist commenters referred to two recent letters which they know the board has received.
One is from Peoria County State's Attorney Jerry Brady regarding the use of P-cards or credit cards, with administrators charging items that seem to be personal perks and paying sales taxes the district does not owe.
The other is supposed to be an explanation of one such charge.
Activist Terry Knapp called attention to the letters, which will be posted below.
He focused on the word 'character,' and sarcastically listed situations where character seems to be lacking: $248 spent on a meal at a restaurant, charged to a P-card; too many pupils on the honor roll or listed as merit award winners at Manual High School, implying that their grades were not earned.
Activist Sharon Crews noted how the administration complained about the cost of fulfilling Freedom of Information Act requests, when only 87 have been received this year, less than one per day, while the board spends many thousands on textbooks, sometimes with no titles listed.
Activist Sevino Sierra told the board "Peoria Stadium is a disgrace to the city of Peoria." It's a historic site, he said. Schools also need repairs, he said, while "you go on on trips and spend money."
Here is a recording of the comments followed by the two letters and my comments about them.
-- Elaine Hopkins
Here is the Brady letter:
Read it carefully. After police sat on the documents for months, we learn that no real investigation took place. No one was interviewed. Nobody looked beyond the documents that Knapp and Crews have been complaining about. This is nothing but asking the crook to investigate himself. Very said.
And now for the email from the new board member Jon Bateman, regarding a questionable P-card charge last December.
> To: email@example.com
> Subject: RE: Questions regarding the December 2013 P-Card payment to the Marriott
> Date: Thu, 4 Sep 2014 19:11:05 +0000
> Mrs. Crews,
> My apologies for the delay in responding, but I wanted to research a policy so I could adequately answer your questions. Also, thank you for the information you provided in your note regarding the projected costs approved by the School Board last year. I'm not surprised to see the amount of $429.81 is essentially the difference between the two projected amounts showing that lodging was accounted for in one projection for one teacher and not doubled up.
> To explain and answer your questions:
> - The teachers' hotel reservations were made by the district and the P-card was provided by the Administration's IB Coordinator to the hotel with instructions to cover lodging charges only.
> - As I stated before, one teacher provided her personal credit card to cover incidentals for the room: phone charges, room service, etc.
> - The hotel mistakenly, this was the honest mistake, charged the full room amount of the lodging charges to the teachers personal credit card instead of the P-card provided by the District at the time of the reservation.
> - The teacher did not recognize the hotel's charging error until she received her personal credit card statement a month later.
> - Once the error was recognized, it took quite a bit of time to get the hotel to reimburse the teacher's personal credit card and move the charges to the P-card provided at the time of the reservation that should have been charged in October for $429.81.
> As a business traveler who has had these kinds of mistakes take place with hotel charges, I can tell you it takes quite a bit of time to get hotels to make the necessary adjustments to correct misapplied charges.
> So you can see the hotel was not double paid and the timing of the resulting P-card charge was a function of the hotel's error combined with the time to recognize and resolve the misapplied charge. By resolving the hotel's error in this manner, the lodging charges were accurately applied to the correct District account.
> These are the circumstances surrounding what should have happened versus what it took to resolve the hotel's error.
> Thank you for your interest in the District's financial activity.
> Jon Bateman
> Sent using OWA for iPad
> From: Sharon Crews <firstname.lastname@example.org>
> Sent: Sunday, August 31, 2014 4:27:48 PM
> To: JON BATEMAN
> Subject: Questions regarding the December 2013 P-Card payment to the Marriott
> August 31, 2014
> Mr. Jon Bateman,
> It is a very rare occurrence for any member of this current board to respond to any of our
> questions and/or observations. Your prompt response to the issue Terry raised at the
> last board meeting is extremely appreciated and a hopeful sign.
> I hope that you can bear with me as I explain why I am still very confused with regard to the
> December 20-23, 2013, transaction. My own search for an explanation had already led me to
> these three pieces of information.
> The October 15, 2013, Travel Listing attached to the agenda for the board meeting on that date
> showed that the following two travel requests had been approved:
> Michelle Buscher (Sterling) to attend IB-Managing Systems, Los Angeles, CA, for October 18-21, 2013,
> at a cost of $1,675.60 for plane, lodging, meals, and registration to be charged to the IB Fund. The request
> had been approved by RJ.
> Denise Smith (Mark Bills) to attend IB-Managing Systems, Los Angeles, CA, for October 18-21, 2013, at a cost of
> $1,246.69 for plane, meals, and registration to be charged to the IB Fund. The request had been approved by RJ.
> Revonda Johnson’s January 20, 2014, procurement card statement listed a $429.81 “lodging” charge for a stay at the
> Marriott LAX in Los Angeles on December 20-23, 2013.
> However, I saw no correlation between the two travel requests and the charge on Johnson’s P-Card. I am sorry to say that your explanation does not clarify the matter for me.
> As a brief aside, I trust that you can begin to see the problems associated with allowing all P-Card holders (probably 50 or more) to charge travel expenses that may or may not have been approved by the board. As in this case, there seems to be no easy way to connect the board approved expenditures with the actual charges for registration fees, transportation, lodging, and meals. Lathan, Kennedy, and Johnson all use their P-cards for travel expenses for themselves and other District 150 employees. In fact, other P-cardholders have, also, charged travel expenses in the past.
> These are the questions that I still have regarding the December 2013 Marriott charges:
> You refer to “an honest mistake.” I do not understand what “mistake” was made.
> First of all, how were the charges for Buscher’s and Smith’s travel expenses supposed to be paid? Were they supposed to pay for their own transportation, lodging, meals, and registration fees and then turn in the charges to the District to be reimbursed? Or was the District supposed to make the lodging reservations and to make payment ahead of time for the two teachers?
> In any case and from your explanation, “Upon check out, the teacher’s personal credit card received the room charges.” Doesn’t that mean that the Marriott was paid and all debts incurred by Buscher and Smith were paid to the Marriott when the teachers checked out?
> Therefore, the teachers, not the Marriott, needed to be reimbursed. Right? Therefore, how does a $429.81 charge for a December 20-23, 2013, stay at the Marriott (which appears on Johnson’s P-card statement for January 20, 2014) relate to repaying the teachers? Why would the Marriott need to be paid twice for the October 18-21 stay?
> Of course, if you have questions or responses to all of the above, feel free to contact me by phone or e-mail.
> Sharon Crews
My take: None of this makes any sense.
Here are the comments from Sharon Crews:
At the last meeting I believe I heard FOIA requests again mentioned as expenditures that need to be decreased. Sorry—it’s a law and the FOIA officer is mandated. As of August 11, only 87 FOIA requests had been received for the calendar year of over 150 week days. That isn’t even one FOIA request per day.
What is the average cost of filling a FOIA request--not counting the FOIA officer’s salary? Gathering the data is done mostly by clerical workers who do not make enough to make filling the requests a drain on the budget. Most of the data we request can be found on District computers in minutes.
Considerable money can be saved if you stop paying lawyers to look over FOIA requests. A half hour of a lawyer’s billable hours probably equals more than a clerical worker earns in a day.
A Public Access Counselor in the Attorney General’s office recently told me that the FOIA law does not require a District to hire a lawyer. However, you can do as you please. The District can save money by willingly giving the public the information requested—especially money-related data that can’t be withheld legally.
Tonight I have given you data that the public and maybe even some of you don’t know—and wouldn’t know if I hadn’t heard a rumor and followed up with a FOIA request.
I learned that in June there were brand new textbooks totaling over $246,000 sitting in the warehouse—for how long I don’t know. The District will not answer why questions, so I do not know why the books were purchased.
Maybe they have been distributed now that school has started. I hope you have the curiosity and sense of responsibility to find out.
An additional $385,000 for textbooks was approved at the August 11 meeting. There are no titles given for any of these books. Four charges were for sets of books costing from $12,000 to $190,000. Were these newly adopted books or replacements for consumable or lost books?
I believe I am right in assuming that Dr. Lathan is still not collecting for lost books in spite of a board policy that states that it is one of her responsibilities.
How much longer can the District lose money on consumable and/or lost books? And you are worried about how much money our FOIA requests cost the District?
Your generosity to AVID is a crime. I assume that the 95 charges of $669 each made mostly on Kennedy’s P-Card were for registration fees for the summer conference. Also, I believe this money was spent months before the trips were approved. -30-