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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

My 11/28/11 comments to the CCS Board of Education

In last week’s Citizen paper (from Ortonville), there was an article about the possible outsourcing of the IT functions in the Brandon School district to a company called VARTek in Dayton, OH that specializes in maintaining and updating technology in schools.  I think with all the interest in updating technology in the district that this should be looked at by the district.  VARTec’s mission is to “be the best provider of managed technology solutions for enhanced learning in the K–12 marketplace.”

In regard to Dr. Rock’s November 21st Superintendent Column that was advertised by ClarkstonCalendar.org, which is supposed to be used to advertise Clarkston area “events”, Dr. Rock said that he had a goal to have every district building equipped to allow every student to use a 1:1 technology device by 2014.  I know that the board has not approved that as yet.  I find it dangerous for the superintendent to make bold statements like that to the public. 

By law, if students are expected to have any specific tools to do their jobs, that the district provide the materials for the child to do that.  If the children would be required to do homework on their 1:1 technology devices that will be supplied to them, the district would be required to supply the households of those children with internet access.  Although they would be wonderful tools for the students, it is an expensive prospect for the district and it should be considered with the promotion of all of the technology upgrades that Dr. Rock is promoting. 
 
The school board has one employee to manage, the superintendent, who has decided that he is making the decisions in the district rather than the board.  School Board, please perform your responsibilities to manage your employee.

In closing, I wanted to point out that on the “Over 100k Salary and Benefit Information Report” currently on the district’s transparency reports, that it shows that the “Director of Facilities and Grounds” earned $7,200.00 in the “Car/Mileage” category, but his contract only allowed for 600 miles per month at the IRS maximum (50 or 51 cents per mile).  That would be $3,636.00, not $7,200.00.  Who approved that additional benefit to this employee? 



Dr. Rock retorted at the end of the meeting that the Transparency report was correct (referring to the “Over 100k Salary and Benefit Information Report” for the $7,200.00 in the “Car/Mileage” for the “Director of Facilities and Grounds” when his contract only allowed for 600 miles per month (a difference of $3,564.00/year).  I guess that means that he is confirming that he DID get $7,200.00 for "car/mileage" instead of the $3,636 that he actually was entitled to receive per his contract.  Interesting...

Sunday, November 6, 2011

In the 10/26/11 Clarkston News, there was an article about the district qualifying to apply for the "ASBO International for the Certificate of Excellence" award as a result of the Plante and Moran financial audit.

However, it was discussed in the 10/10/11 CCS school board meeting that the P&M audit only analyzes a very small part of the financial operation of the district.  My understanding from the discussion and the audit results in the board packet, was that it is mostly just on the district's reporting - making sure that the district records the correct expenses and income under the correct descriptions, puts those amounts in the correct slots on the financial statements, ensures that any "material" (huge dollar amount) violations are investigated and reported on, and that proper certifications of employees are earned and evidence of the certifications are in their personnel folders.

If the dollar amounts of "issues" don't meet P&M's dollar clip level definition of "material", then apparently, the district can do whatever they want (with relation to what P&M audits).  Therefore, the audit results do not report that the district is squeaky clean and that they are handling all of their finances correctly.  P&M specifically said in the audit that they have very specific and limited tasks in the audit and that outside of the requirements for those tasks, that they are neither obligated to comment in their findings nor investigate them.  That is why the obvious violations of financial policy and inappropriate use of school funds that I brought to the district and the auditors prior to the audit were not reported on the audit results.  P&M either doesn't consider the dollar amounts "material" enough, or that the violations were outside the focus of the audit...  Based on that, I personally consider the audit "results" and the district's "award" to both be meritless and useless. 

I believe that the district needs an auditor that actually "audits" the district's finances rather than window dressing it with a meaningless award that makes the district "look" to be doing things properly.

I asked for a forensic audit of the district at a board meeting about 18 months ago and that request was ignored.  I believe it is long overdue. 

Here were my comments during the 10/10/11 meeting:

  1. I am disappointed in the results of the district audit by Plante and Moran.
    1. Following finding significant violations of district policy and improper coding of charges to the district purchasing card through my FOIA requests that I have brought to the attention of the board and nothing was done with it, I submitted an email to the lead auditor prior to the start of audit to request that the audit analyze:
 i.      the use of the district purchasing card by one teacher who allowed three other people to use her purchasing card,
 ii.      account coding of trip expenses for an extracurricular group that were charged to district educational account codes (vs. the group’s account codes) by the same teacher,
 iii.      and the district not following policy in regard to obtaining multiple bids, and/or not obtaining board approval for large purchases as mandated by policy.
    1. The audit did not address any of the items I brought forward to Plant & Moran.
    2. The audit noted that the district had policies and administrative guidelines in place regarding the use of district purchasing cards.  However, the district website does not reflect that the district has any administrative guidelines for the use of the purchasing card.  (Even by today, 11/06/11).      
  1. On the organization chart in the 2011 audit on page 100 of the board packet, I found many interesting things as compared to the October 8th, 2010 org chart I have from last year. 
    1. There are many changes in titles and the apparent staff shown from 2010.  Although there have been no requests from Administration to the board for new employees or promotions for employees, there are many changes in titles.  However, the board must approve "Administrative, Instructional and Non-Instructional Staff Changes" in an open meeting. 
 i.      Although the Superintendent has advised that there is a pay freeze on all of the employees of the district, the titles of several positions have changed since the 10/8/10 org chart, I suspect that the pay for these individuals have also increased, and the Board of Education has not been asked to approve promotions or been asked to approve raises for these individuals:
1.       After only one year in the position and several Human Resources issues in this audit, the 2010 "Director of Human Resources" is now the 2011 "Executive Director for Human Resources and Communications".
2.       The 2010 position of "Supervisor, Assessment, Research, and Evaluation" with a secretary working under her in 2010, is now the 2011 "Chief Academic Officer" with "subject area coordinators, State and Federal Programs, staff development, student data management, and program evaluation" under her.
3.       The 2009 "Communications secretary", became 2010’s "Community Relations / Communications" person, and 2011’s "Communications Coordinator”.
4.       There is a new position in 2011 called "Executive Director of Operations".  I am not sure who is in that position, but the position did not exist in 2010. 
5.        Have the promotions resulted in pay increases for any of those employees?

After the 10/10/11 CCS board meeting, the steward for the CCS teachers union, came over to me and asked me why I had not come to him with information on the teacher that I had reported to Dr. Rock and Plant & Moran that I believed had misused the district purchasing card.  This is what I did:
  • emailed it to the board and the superintendent over a year ago and commented about it during a board meeting at the same time,
  • I brought my findings to the Finance Committee in the beginning of March, 2011,
  • It was included in my letter to Dr. Rock and Mrs. Lieblang in a letter with full details on March 18, 2011.
  • I also emailed it to Plante & Moran August 2011 before the audit.
Dr. Rock said after I sent the letter in March that he would address my concerns internally, but that he was not going to report back to me on what was done.   I told the union steward I expected that the teacher had taken quite a hit for all of the things that she did.  The union steward advised me the teacher had not been reprimanded at all, because if she had been, it would have come through him as the union steward.  I was incredulous! 

Based on this, apparently Dr. Rock did nothing with my information.  So much for "he'll handle it internally".  I am assuming that he apparently "handled" it into the circular file under his desk.

10/26/11 Clarkston News Article, "School Audit Earns Recognition"

Here is an article that was in the Clarkston News on October 26, 2011

http://www.clarkstonnews.com/Articles-News-i-2011-10-26-244160.113121-sub14473.113121-School-audit-earns-recognition.html

"School audit earns recognition"


"October 26, 2011 - Clarkston Community Schools' financial statements are accurate and accounted for, according to their recent audit by Plante & Moran.

For the 13th year, the annual report was submitted to ASBO International for the Certificate of Excellence award.

"We believe this reflects well that we are spending our funds wisely and directing those funds into classroom instruction as much as possible," said Cheryl McGinnis, school board president.

"It gives us a very clear and sound picture for moving forward as a district," said Superintendent Dr. Rod Rock. "It also demonstrates the negative effects of cuts that come from the state and reminds us that we face additional fiscal challenges in the future."

Recommendations from Plante & Moran included review of expenditures for federal grants by those responsible for them. Also, the district should continually monitor policies for purchase cards.

They also advised the district make sure semi-annual certifications for employees charging their time to Title 1 have them, and maintain them. According to the audit, the district failed to maintain personnel activity reports in the required format for co-funded employees and failed to obtain semi annual certifications for paraprofessionals.

"The administration has already taken steps to update and streamline how they account for and track Title I dollars and those items in the audit have already been addressed," said McGinnis.

This year's audit cost $46,100, out of the General Fund in the business services department."

Kelli Horst's letter to the editor 10-12-11 about my FOIA requests

Kelli Horst, the president of the Clarkston PTA Council decried my FOIA requests here in this letter to the editor that was published in the 10/12/11 Clarkston News.
 
Isn't this "special" that the stated President of the Clarkston PTA Council thinks it's appropriate to attack a parent of a CCS student for legally requesting documents through the legally protected FOIA process?  Nothing fails to surprise me.    

I consider this a scare tactic by people close to school administrators to get me to back down with my FOIA requests.  

"Letter to the Editor

Questions about FOIA questions

October 12, 2011 - Dear Editor,

I am very disturbed by facts presented by Ssuperintendent Dr. Rod Rock at the Sept. 26 Clarkston School Board meeting.

Clarkston resident Dawn Schaller submitted nine Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to Clarkston Community Schools since 2010. She received 4,760 pages of materials for six requests fulfilled to date at an estimated cost of more than $1,200 to the district. Although Mrs. Schaller has paid $886.08 of those costs, the district and the taxpayers eat the rest. I don't like the taste of that.

Even more disturbing is the apparent partnership between Mrs. Schaller and Sherman Publications, owner of The Clarkston News. Editor Phil Custodio participated in Mrs. Schaller's review of documents pertaining to her first FOIA request at the administration building.

Dr. Rock presented evidence Sherman Publications paid for one of Mrs. Schaller's FOIA requests. I spoke with Dr. Tommy Thomason, a journalism professor at Texas Christian University and expert on community journalism. He has never heard of a community newspaper paying for a private citizen's FOIA request. It seems hidden agendas also make strange bedfellows.

While Mrs. Schaller certainly has the right to examine public information, the length and breadth of this pursuit without any evidence of wrong-doing is simply a waste of the taxpayers' money and the school district's time. She's fishing, plain and simple, and the hometown newspaper has swallowed her story hook, line and sinker. The Clarkston News has frequently published Mrs. Schaller's vague allegations and opinions opposing district actions without evidence to support her claims. A quick search of The Clarkston News website shows Mrs. Schaller has been quoted or used as a source 24 times in the past 18 months in stories and editorials relating to the school district.

Jim Sherman owes his readers and the citizens of Clarkston answers. Why are you paying for the FOIA requests of a private citizen and supporting her unsubstantiated allegations? Did you reimburse Mrs. Schaller or anyone else for her other FOIA requests, which were paid with cash and personal checks?

What is the relationship between Dawn Schaller and The Clarkston News? Will you be transparent with your practices, as you are demanding of the school district?

It's time for Dawn Schaller and Sherman Publications to be up front about their motives and actions. If there are findings that support alleged misconduct or misappropriation of funds, then publish it.

If nothing concrete has come from 18 months, nine FOIA requests and nearly 5,000 pages of documents, then it's time to stop chasing conspiracy theories and let our school administrators return to the business of educating our students.

Kelli Horst, president
Clarkston PTA Council"

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Community Input Sessions for Future Technology and Facility Planning at CCS (read "bond or sinking fund request").

Although it's not stated in this "informational notice" on the district website, you need to know how the CCS district wants to get a new bond or sinking fund approved for future facility and technology spending.  The district's recent actions show they consider a lack of response from the public to be acceptance and approval of their actions or requests.  Make sure you ask specifics about how they want to spend the money and ask about  the changes coming for new Michigan public school bond funds that will apply to this bond request (if it is approved) and how much more it will cost the taxpayers than in the past... 

See below for info on "community input sessions" coming up in November 2011 from the home page for the CCS website here Please be sure you attend!     

"Community Input Sessions for Future Technology and Facility Planning
CCS Administrators will be holding three Community Input Sessions for future facility and technology planning.  The purpose of these sessions will be to discuss the technology and building/capital improvement needs of the district, gather feedback from parents and community members about these needs and determine next steps.


Sessions will be held on the following dates at the locations noted:

Wednesday, November 9 - Springfield Plains Elementary School Media Center - 6:00 pm
Wednesday, November 16 - CCS Administration Building - 12:00 noon
Thursday, November 17 - Pine Knob Elementary School Media Center - 6:00 pm

We hope you can join us!"

Email me with comments or concerns

You can email me with your comments or concerns as it appears that although there are quite a few people looking at my blog site, very few have commented, although they can safely do so anonymously... 

If you email me, I will not reveal your name to anyone else.

My email address is cleanupclarkstonschools at gmail dot com  Please change the "at" to the "@" sign and change "dot" to a period with no spaces in the full email address.

Thanks.

Dawn Schaller

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

My 11/2/11 Letter to the Editor of the Clarkston News - Summing up FOIA request results

Here is a link to my Letter to the Editor in the 11/2/11 Clarkston News 

http://www.clarkstonnews.com/Articles-Opinion-i-2011-11-02-244307.113121-sub14473.113121-Letter-to-the-Editor.html

Letter to the Editor

Summing up FOIA request

November 02, 2011 - Dear Editor,

Regarding my FOIA requests: some people said that they do not understand my intentions and I should deliver proof of findings.

Two years ago, January 2010, Clarkston school administration surprised many with an expected shortfall of $13 million dollars and that we needed to cut $10 million dollars in one year. I became very interested in how the school district spends its money.

What I have found through my FOIA documents include: incomplete and inaccurate Transparency Reports, mandated by the state; purchasing policy violations such as contracts broken up into smaller pieces so board approval would not be required, awarding contracts without obtaining three bids, use of district credit card by non-district employees; and questionable expenses.

I delivered a letter with back up documentation to Dr. Rod Rock and the school board treasurer on March 18, 2011. I still have not received a response besides acknowledgment of receipt.

In this day of reduced educational funding, increasing class sizes and cuts to direct student services like instructional aides and media specialists, I think we as a community need to understand how our tax and educational dollars are being spent, especially since Dr. Rock has plans to ask the Community for over $20 million more dollars through a bond and/or sinking fund.

For more specifics, please visit my blog at acrosstheboard-clarkston.blogspot.com

Dawn Schaller

Independence Township