Dining with Dianne – Fox Credit Cards Part III

23 Aug

Disgraced Fox C-6 Superintendent Dianne Critchlow’s credit card charges have aroused outrage in the community (as have the charges of other top administrators, most of whom still work at the district). Critchlow used her card at many area restaurants. Here is a list of her favorite eating establishments, based on charges from July 2012 through May 2014:

1. Panera – 15 visits
2. Chick-Fil-A – 13 visits
3. Weber’s Front Row – 8 visits
3. (tie) Terrazza Grill – 8 visits
5. Drunken Noodles – 7 visits

Critchlow spread our money around, though. By my count, she patronized 33 local establishments over this time. From July 2013 through May 2014, she made purchases at restaurants 59 times (I am excluding obvious out-of-town dining from this review) [Update: this is about 1.5 times per week). This does not include any food she may have purchased at grocery stores, gas stations, Wal-mart, or DiGregorio’s Italian Market (where she spent $116 in December 2013). It also does not include charges she made on Discover cards issued to other district employees, so these numbers are likely higher. Her average expenditure was about $60, with charges as high as $351.86 (at Bandana’s BBQ). So it is clear she was treating others to lunch on our dimes. But she ate alone on occasion; there were seven charges of $15 or less. Some of the large, $100+ charges suggest she was buying food for a group. But it’s hard to see why the superintendent would be the one to be picking up and paying for food. A similar question is being asked for all the grocery store and Sam’s Club purchases: why are senior administrators going on shopping trips? Is that in their job description? Or are they giving their cards to other people?

As for her justification, we see on the board packet for the August 19 school board meeting (bottom of page 152) that three of Critchlow’s restaurant charges were explained as “professional development.” Of course, two of these three charges were made on the day after Critchlow went on medical leave (just as her internet posting scandal exploded). So it sounds like professional development is a convenient, generic label under which to attempt to justify her dining. Furthermore, as pointed out by Fox C-6 Watchdogs, district credit cards are only to be used for “the purchase of instructional materials, items related to the improvement of instruction or materials related to capital improvements or supplies” (policy 3125). Critchlow claims that she has receipts and written explanations for each charge. I look forward to seeing these.

Another thought that occurs to me is this: there is a high school, a middle school, and an elementary school right near the central office. Each of these schools has a cafeteria. Why not use them for your professional development lunches? You guys hired the board president’s daughter-in-law to run the food services; put taxpayer money where your mouth is and sample the food. If it’s good enough for the kids, isn’t it good enough for the administrators? It’s a lot cheaper, too.

Rep. Roorda on Ferguson

17 Aug

Representative Jeff Roorda (D – 113th) has a day job as business manager for the St. Louis Police Officers’ Association. As part of his duties, he is quick to come to the defense of policemen who are accused of misconduct. In the Post-Dispatch, he comments on the issue of releasing the name of the officer who shot Mike Brown:

Jeff Roorda, business manager of the St. Louis Police Officers Association, is so opposed to release of the names that as a state legislator he once tried to pass legislation to protect them. “These guys face threats during their eight-hour shifts,” he said. “They shouldn’t have to face them at home.”

Roorda said the public’s right to know can be accommodated through the normal investigative process.

“If they did something wrong, they’re going to be charged criminally and everyone should know what their name is,” he said. He also acknowledged that the name could become public if a lawsuit is filed.

But what if the officer is cleared thanks to an impartial investigation by his own police department? And then he goes out and commits another questionable act? The public would never know that it’s the same guy who keeps offending and getting away with it.

The legislation that snippet refers to is discussed in this Watchdog.org post:

That report will be a public record and, eventually, we will know the name of the man who killed Michael Brown.

But if state Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart, had his way, that would not be the case.

Roorda introduced a bill last year to amend the state’s Sunshine Law to prevent the public from obtaining “any records and documents pertaining to police shootings … if they contain the name of any officer who did the shooting.”

The only time the name of an officer would be disclosed, under Roorda’s proposal, would be if the officer ended up being charged with a crime as a result of the shooting. And given police departments’ history of protecting their own from prosecution after they injure or kill suspects, that’s certainly not a very reassuring detail.

In fact, the bill would prevent the public from knowing about police officers involved in any incident in which an individual is shot by a law enforcement officer, regardless of whether the officer was on duty.

Roorda also appeared briefly on the CNN show “Smerconish” (it’s a guy’s name). In a segment in which the moderator did the most talking, Roorda speaks at 2:28, sticking up for Ferguson chief Tom Jackson and asking people to wait until all information comes out. But his comments beginning at the 5:35 mark have gotten some attention. He said:

“The cavalcade of police chiefs around the country going on TV and questioning the merits of this investigation ought to turn their badges in. There’s no place for second-guessing.”

I would argue that there’s plenty of room for second-guessing. Roorda also attended a meeting of regional lawmakers on Thursday that was organized by State Senator Jamilah Nasheed to discuss Ferguson. He was quoted in the Missouri Times as saying:

“I’d like us to think about building bridges between law enforcement officers and the communities they protect,” Roorda said. “I think I could help with that process. One of the problems you have in places like this is that law enforcement and local folks just don’t understand each other.”

I am skeptical, given Roorda’s defense of officers in cases like this, where a cop was caught on video striking a handcuffed suspect, that people in communities like Ferguson will buy what he’s selling. Especially since Roorda strongly opposes the use of lapel and dash cameras that would have quickly revealed what really happened last Saturday on that street in Ferguson.

Good For Any Situation – Fox Credit Cards Part II

14 Aug

Post-Dispatch reporter Leah Thorsen summarizes what she found on disgraced Fox superintendent Dianne Critchlow’s credit card statements:

Credit card statements show Critchlow spent at least $3,700 at restaurants from June 20, 2013, to June 6 of this year. Other spending included charges at gas stations, the Jeffco Auto Pride Car Wash and Wal-Mart.

Charges include many small-dollar purchases at fast-food places, such as $9.01 at a Taco Bell and $11.74 at a Dairy Queen. It also includes bigger purchases, such a $189.81 charge at St. Louis Sports Zone on March 10, one day before she began leave through the Family and Medical Leave Act.

She used 10.5 days of leave from March 11 through April 9 intermittently, sometimes working from home.

She went on FMLA leave again May 28 and was put on paid administrative leave June 4.

She used her district card on May 29, June 5 and June 6. Those purchases included $21.52 at the Sunny Street Cafe in Arnold and $74.79 at a Shell Oil.

What was that Sports Zone purchase? A going-away party or something? So you see, Critchlow didn’t let the fact that she was on medical leave prevent her from living it up on your tax dollars. And if you don’t like it, screw you, is what she would have said had you objected. She gave an unbelievably audacious, arrogant statement to the media about the upcoming audit (which has been confirmed by State Auditor Tom Schweich) She said:

“Had [Brazeal] extended that professional courtesy, I would have been happy to explain each and every charge for which the district already has receipts and written explanations to include annual, independent audits,” she said in the statement issued through the office of her attorney, Chet Pleban. “Instead, he was apparently intent upon hurting me rather than obtaining answers or locating documents.”

She said she looks forward to the audit. I look forward to seeing how she justifies her purchases, especially those she made while on medical leave. I think her bluster is just a(nother) attempt to intimidate the board and other administrators that she seems to be prepared to drop a dime on. If she falls, they’re going down with her. As for her statement, perhaps she did submit documents and invent bogus justifications that nobody noticed or objected to. As for the audits, I am confident that “making sure all credit card purchases were legitimate” was not part of the financial audit process (no mention of it in the 2012 audit), so that’s just a smokescreen. But Critchlow telling a bald-faced lie is not a new occurrence.

 

Fox Board Approves Audit Request; Brazeal Adds Details

12 Aug

Tonight the Fox C-6 school board unanimously approved CFO John Brazeal’s request to ask the state auditor to take a look at the district. Brazeal expanded upon the questionable activity he outlined in his memo to the board. Here’s what he said:

  • Many transactions of a personal nature were made.
  • Bond proceeds were used to hide deficits.
  • Brazeal said “my predecessor” shredded documents and destroyed electronic evidence. That person was Mark McCutchen. I discussed McCutchen’s hasty retirement in my last post.
  • Brazeal expects civil and potentially criminal action to come as a result of the state audit and the district investigation.
  • He said he has been told that the district operated on intimidation, but that not just one person was responsible for this.
  • Superintendent Dianne Critchlow’s $240 donation, on her district credit card, to the Missouri School Administrators PAC, was illegal. One of MSAPAC’s legislative concerns is “Changing the perception of some legislators that school administration costs are too high and that school administrators are overpaid.” Critchlow sure made their job more difficult. It sounds like this is one charge that will be easily reversed.
  • Brazeal said the board was in many cases “voting on faith” (translation: taking Critchlow’s word for it and not doing their due diligence). But he caveated that by saying that some documents that were presented to the board were doctored after the meetings.
  • Board member Steve Holloway asked if it was legally possible to not make Critchlow’s last golden parachute payment of about $65,000, which is due in three days per her settlement with the district. Brazeal said district attorneys advised that Critchlow would be entitled to a hearing, and all payments to her must be made until a decision is made after the hearing, so it is too late to stop that payment. But he said that he will be working to identify illegal transactions and recouping the money from funds that are still owed to people. Critchlow is getting a paycheck through October, so that gives the district 2.5 months to garnish her wages. But it sounds like she’s not the only person that could be subject to this.
  • The memo mentioned unauthorized rates of compensation. Brazeal said, as I recall, that people who write the checks were ordered to pay certain people more than what contracts allowed for. Perhaps this explains the discrepancies between contract pay and actual pay that I found here?

Board member Cheryl Hermann asked a number of questions about this potential audit. She mentioned the last audit of Fox that took place in 2001-02. She said it didn’t go as deep as she thought it should have, and asked if we could ensure this one would go deep. Others said it is up to the auditor, but they didn’t seem to be concerned that the upcoming audit would not go deep enough. Hermann also asked why the last audit didn’t lead to changes that would have prevented the current situation, to which I reply that it’s because board members like Hermann didn’t do their job. They didn’t bother to look at credit card statements to see the obvious malfeasance contained therein, or to read contracts. She also asked how we can prevent this in the future. Well, first we need the voters to stop electing rubber-stamp board members (like Hermann). Voters need to look past the NEA endorsement and figure out which candidates will be independent overseers of the district.

Finally, Brazeal and Post-Dispatch reporter Leah Thorsen talked to state auditor Tom Schweich and said that he would be inclined to take the board up on its request.

Holloway noted that there will be an open forum with the superintendent search consultant on September 2 for residents to give their input on what traits the new district head should have. A survey will also be posted on the district website.

Oh, the Places You’ll Go – Fox Credit Cards Part I

12 Aug

I am going to kick off my analysis of the newly-released Fox C-6 credit card statements by looking at travel-related charges. I will start with the trip to Nashville in February 2014, apparently for the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) annual National Conference on Education. The conference ran from Feb. 13-15, and  superintendent Dianne Critchlow and assistant superintendents Dan Baker, Todd Scott, and Andy Arbeitman attended from Fox. This is despite the fact that the conference is “designed exclusively for school superintendents” (though they seem to welcome assistants and others). How many people should the district send to this conference at $775 per person for the event plus $219 per night for the hotel? Critchlow rolled into Nashville on the 11th, two days early (p. 14 Visa bill). Maybe she attended the pre-conference workshop on the afternoon of the 12th? The hotel bills for the conference are on page 48 of the Discover bill.

It looks like the gang had some fun in Nashville. Critchlow spent $40 at Bailey’s Pub, $30 at the Swingin’ Doors Saloon, and $62 at the hotel bar (p. 14 Visa; she also hit the gift shop). Arbeitman spent $23 at the hotel bar (p. 3 Visa). Baker spent $94 at the Hilton Sports Grille, $53 at the hotel bar, and $32 and Honky Tonk Central (p. 8 Visa). Scott spend $63 at Robert’s Western World and $67 at Piranha’s (p. 30 Visa). Two breakfasts and two lunches were included as part of the conference fee. So perhaps they had their dinners at bar and grill type places and paid for each other’s meals some nights (which would make filing expense reports difficult). How many drinks were consumed with dinner? We’d have to see the receipts. District policy (p. 43) says:

It is the policy of the Board to pay reasonable travel expenses for those who travel on District business and whose trip has been approved in advance by the Superintendent/designee. These expenses include registration, transportation, meals, lodging, tolls, and parking charges. Expenses are reimbursed only when properly accounted for by an individual and approved by the Superintendent/designee.
Was this done? There’s no smoking gun on this trip, to me, just questions about how many administrators need to go to a conference and what limits exist on meal expenditures.
 
But let’s move on to the Lake of the Ozarks. There were a number of trips taken to there. I’m not sure what kind of educational events take place there, but they seem to be frequent. Let’s review:
 
One Jerome Kwiatkowski (I can’t find a record of him at the district) was named on a number of charges on the district’s Discover card. It appears that he is/was responsible for booking flights and hotel rooms for others. But in the cases of restaurants, one has to assume that he was present for those expenditures. Anyway, Kwiatkowski was apparently at the Lake of the Ozarks (LATO) in July 2013 (p. 2 Discover), staying at Camden on the Lake and dining at several establishments, including H. Toad’s. It looks like he paid for five rooms.
 
Later that month, Todd Scott was at LATO (p. 29 Visa), staying at Lodge of the 4 Seasons. He returned there two months later, staying at Camden. In March 2014, he was back. This time, Kwiatkowski paid for a number of rooms and/or nights, perhaps 6-7.
 
Arbeitman was in LATO in October 2013, making a charge at Wobbly Boots BBQ (p. 3 Visa). At the same time, Kwiatkowski paid for approximately two rooms at Lodge of the 4 Seasons and a number of meals (at this same time though, a $2,000 purchase was made on his card for pizza in Imperial) (p. 22 Discover). I’m thinking either that Arbeitman actually pays for his own meals (and presumably files for reimbursement), or he mooches off of other administrators (or should I say the taxpayers) – not sure which it would be. Someone named Sharon Moore also had charges at Tan Tara Resort in LATO in mid-October (p. 1 Visa), but I see no further charges related to that trip.
 
Former CFO Mark McCutchen went to LATO in November 2013 for about three days, but there’s no associated hotel stay that I see. In April 2014, McCutchen and Arbeitman were back in town, although I’m not sure their visits overlapped. McCutchen had charges at Camden on the Lake (for $515!) on the 20th and 21st (p. 23 Visa). Arbeitman was at the Westin in New Orleans on the 21st, but in LATO two days later.
 
McCutchen, it should be noted, made a sudden, quiet departure from the district. As reported by Fox C-6 Watchdogs, new CFO John Brazeal was hired at the May 20 board meeting, but it was not until the next day, when the board packet was updated, that it was revealed that McCutchen was leaving. He was set to retire June 30, which is not very much notice for a senior administrator. But board president John Laughlin indicated at the June 30 board meeting basically that McCutchen took a bunch of leave and ditched the district early, so Fox had no CFO when the upcoming year’s bleak budget picture was becoming clear. Did McCutchen anticipate that these credit card charges would come out, and thus reach for the golden parachute? Rich Simpson from the Watchdogs blog made his first Sunshine request for the credit card statements in March 2014.
 
There was a trip to DC in October 2013. Kwiatkowski booked eight rooms at the Renaissance (p. 29 Discover). Critchlow and Crutchley were among the attendees. I find it interesting, for Critchlow’s Nashville and DC trips, that she didn’t report to the school board about them at the meetings before or after the trips. Something like, hey, I went to this conference, it was great, this is what I learned, would seem to be appropriate. But no such reports occurred, according to meeting minutes.
 
There are a number of airline ticket purchases on the various cards, but it is not possible without other information to determine where the flights went and who took them (although in some cases people booked their own tickets). On many of Kwiatkowski’s Southwest reservations, there are extra $15 charges. These I presume are the fees for early check-in, which allows you to get on the plane before everyone else. This seems like an unnecessary perk for our public servants.
 
Sure, it’s possible that administrators reimbursed the district for some of these expenses, or if they are somehow justified that proper approval procedures were followed. We know that district credit card policies have not been followed as they pertain to the types of purchases that are allowed.
 
In a future post I hope to examine meal charges on the district credit cards. Also please note that there is a board meeting tonight at 7 pm at which the board will vote on a resolution to request a state audit. Be there.
 
 

Brazeal Endorses Fox Audit

9 Aug

Since the Dianne Critchlow scandal broke at Fox C-6, followed closely by revelations of a looming budget deficit, members of the community, including Rich Simpson of Fox C-6 Watchdogs and Nikki McClain of NO MORE MONEY OR Resources for the Fox C-6 Superintendent, have called for the state auditor to be brought in to do an audit. Members of the school board, however, resisted. John Laughlin and Dan Kroupa insisted that new CFO John Brazeal and interim superintendent Tim Crutchley be allowed some time to set things straight. Laughlin and Cheryl Hermann suggested a state audit would not be helpful, perhaps due to misunderstandings on their part about the scope and purpose of a state audit. Talk of organizing an audit petition began.

But yesterday the audit football was advanced far down the field when Brazeal wrote a memo suggesting that the board ask for a state audit. A special board meeting was scheduled for August 12 for the sole purpose of passing a resolution to that effect. Brazeal stated that evidence of the following has been found:

    • Financial transactions that appear to be of a personal nature rather than for a District purpose (this has to be the credit card charges of Critchlow and others)
    • Unauthorized rates of compensation (perhaps the salaries that deviate from what was set out in contracts?)
    • Misuse of District property
    • Transactions that are potentially illegal (perhaps Critchlow’s credit card donation to the Missouri School Administrators Political Action Committee?)
    • Destruction of physical and electronic records (probably attempts by guilty parties to cover their tracks)
    • Irregularities related to the issuance of the most recent General Obligation bonds and disposition of the bond funds (this one could be juicy)

Here is the memo, along with the agenda for the August 12 meeting (be there).

The potential wrongdoing mentioned in the letter goes far beyond what bloggers and parents have been discussing in recent weeks. Some of this could be quite serious and criminal. But I have to wonder about Crutchley’s involvement in the investigation. He has been an assistant superintendent for a number of years. He was in the inner circle. Could he really have been ignorant of all that was going on? A glance at Crutchley’s credit card charges (starting on page 27) includes a lot of charges from Amazon, several from Skywalker Communications, a swanky $125 ride from Execucar (“a late-model, luxury sedan or SUV picks you up for a private ride”), and almost $200 at a upscale DC sports bar. These suggest he was in on at least some of the fun. Some of these charges could be job-related (he was asst. supt. for school services), but how are we to know without an investigation?

Anti-audit board members will be hard pressed to say no to an audit at a board meeting with an angry crowd in attendance and without cover from Brazeal. Brazeal’s memo states that the auditor has a Swift Assessment Program, which sounds like a SWAT team for auditors, to come in and do quick work when serious wrongdoing is suspected. Unfortunately, Dianne Critchlow will be retired before anything comes of this (she gets her final early retirement incentive check for $65,000 this week). Perhaps the district could rip up the settlement agreement, cancel her retirement, and put her on unpaid suspension until the audit is complete. Then they could give her the appropriate punishment (this is not to exclude any penalties that the legal system may choose to pursue). I know, I’m dreaming.

A Deeper Look at Fox Admin Pay Cuts

8 Aug

While I digest Dianne Critchlow’s newly-released (and exorbitant) district credit card bills (starting on page 11), let’s take a look at the recent decision by several Fox administrators to take a voluntary 5% pay cut. This decision was publicized as a sign that the district was turning the page on the bloated salaries of the past, and the six men who participated in the act were featured in a centerfold, more or less, in the Leader on July 31. Let me say for starters that the men do deserve some credit, since they were in no way required to take these pay cuts. But let’s take a look at their true impact, so we can keep the cuts, which will save the district about $50,000 on these six, in perspective.

I have created a table showing the salaries of each participating administrator (Andy Arbeitman, Dan Baker [he of the online posting scandal], John Brazeal, Tim Crutchley, Lorenzo Rizzi, and Todd Scott) over the past several years, based on data from the district and from the Leader. All but Brazeal (CFO) are assistant superintendents (Crutchley is now acting superintendent). Arbeitman and Brazeal recently joined the district, so I am including their final salary at their previous districts (click to enlarge).

 

Salary data for Fox admins taking 5% pay cuts

Salary data for Fox admins taking 5% pay cuts

 

Brazeal is given credit in the Leader article for leading the way on the pay cuts. But note from the chart above that Brazeal was given a 24% raise to come to Fox. In his last year at Affton (also as CFO), Brazeal was paid $132,991; Fox bumped that up to $165,000. The 5% cut brought Brazeal down to $156,750, which means his raise stands at a mere 18%.

Dan Baker, who was docked two weeks pay for his role in the Critchlow scandal, will see his pay drop to $148,335 (not counting the two weeks deduction). This is still more than his 2012-13 salary of $147,855. So he had most – but not all – of his $8,300 of raises over the past two years wiped out. Crutchley, Rizzi, and Scott saw their pay drop below their 2012-13 salaries. I suspect many people who live in the Fox district are being paid an amount similar to what they received two years ago, but for very different reasons. Arbeitman’s pay cut upon coming to Fox stems from the fact that he was a superintendent at De Soto and took a demotion to join the district.

Something else that jumps out is the difference between what the four longer-term administrators were paid between 2011 and 2013 versus what their contracts said they were to be paid. All were on three-year contracts that began with the 2010-11 school year, and these contracts spelled out their exact pay for each school year covered by the deal. But in 2011-12, each admin made at least $4,000 more than the contract amount, and in 2012-13 each made at least $11,000 more. The contracts state that the administrator salaries are calculated by taking 1.5 times the highest salary in the doctorate column of the teacher salary schedule and multiplying by the “administrative salary schedule percentages.” I may be wrong, but I don’t think rising teacher salaries were the cause of these big administrator raises. Crutchley and Rizzi both got raises of about 11% going into the 2012-13 school year, while Baker and Scott saw their salaries go up about 8%.

The Leader article says that 40 other administrators are being “encouraged” to also take the 5% cut. As of late July, Crutchley said about 20 of them said they planned to do so. I think that’s the least they can do. The names of all who take the cut, and all who don’t, should be publicized as well.

 

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