Recent events may have taken a much different path if I had paid the $170 fee the district wanted to charge me for the credit card statements back in April.
I didn't pay the fee because the district shouldn't have been charging a fee. In fact the credit card statements should have been part of the monthly board meeting packets that our school board members review each month prior to approving payments. The Fox C-6 school board was simply approving the lump sum payments each month to the credit card companies and trusting that the cards were being used wisely and according to school board policies.
We've now learned that most of our school district administrators weren't using district credit cards according to district policy. It also became very clear as to why there was such a resistance to making the credit card statements available to the public. Even the updated Bill Payment reports that were modified in April 2014 didn't provide the proper information as required by school district policies.
Request for State Audit
For these reasons, I suggested that the Fox C-6 BOE or acting superintendent request a State Audit of the Fox C-6 School District at the June 30, 2014 Fox C-6 School Board meeting during Public Comment. It costs less for the school district to request a State Audit than it does to have an audit forced by a signature petition. The Fox C-6 BOE has called a Special Meeting for Tuesday August 12, 2014 at 7PM to approve the request of conducting a state audit of the district.
I would like to see the district request that the State Audit review the last 5 Fiscal Years rather than the 3 suggested by Mr. Brazeal in his letter to the school board. The review should go back to when leadership changes were made in the district during the fall of 2009. Documents should should still be available for the past 5 years.
A State Audit can also check for compliance with state and federal regulations as well as proper certifications, etc. It's very important to know that our superintendent was recommending individuals who were properly certified for the positions to which they were being hired or promoted to within our district.
Unbelievable Credit Card Purchases
The credit card statements really woke up the Fox C-6 community to the fact that there are problems in our district's leadership after reading many of their comments on Facebook. Wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars is an embarrassment to the community. The community's trust of our district's leaders and school board has been shattered. Not only were Central Office Administrators being overpaid, they were also using taxpayer dollars to purchase meals on an almost daily basis when they were the ones who could have most easily afforded to pay for their own meals.
School district policies cover Credit Card usage and Payment Procedures. But it's very obvious that many of our administrators using district supplied credit cards weren't following district policy. Superintendent Critchlow appears to have been the worst offender. She refused to correct the bill payments earlier in the year when asked to include a payment description or reasons for payments as required by district policy.
I'm glad that documented evidence of wrong doing has made it to the public. Now the school board has proof that there have been problems in our district for quite some time and should be able to take action towards terminating those involved. Even the school board shares responsibility for not verifying credit card statements.
One of my concerns currently is the fact that some of those in charge of overseeing and investigating these issues were also participants in the incorrect usage of district credit cards. The credit card companies should be able to provide the statements for the cards and destruction of that data would not look good at this point in time.
I thought it would be helpful for the community to understand why it took so long to obtain the credit card statements by publishing my exchange of emails with the district. The emails start after pointing out at the February 2014 Fox C-6 school board meeting my concerns that the district had already paid $2 Million dollars in credit card bills for the school year but credit card statements to document what was purchased was not provided in the board packets.
Accountability means that billing statements must be reviewed each month before the payments are approved by the board of education. Spending $2 Million dollars on credit cards is a lot of money to be spending without checking where and what it's being spent on.
As you can see from the email exchanges below, I requested that the district waive the $170 fee per Missouri Sunshine Law. Eventually I received a response to my request from Dr. Rizzi's on May 1, 2014 near the end of the email chain. My request to waive the fee was denied as quoted below!
Your request to waive the fee of $170 has not been granted. We would be happy to complete the request upon payment.I asked in a follow up email when the school board decided that they would NOT waive the fees. I never received a response to that question. I had backed them into a corner with my questions so there was no way to answer the question.
I think it is quite clear why Superintendent Critchlow didn't want this information public. That's why my request to waive the fees were denied. But, now that Superintendent Critchlow is no longer pulling all the strings, my most recent Sunshine Request for the credit card statements was supplied FREE of charge.
You'll also notice in the exchange of emails that the district wanted me to forward all of my questions to the district prior to asking them at school board meetings so the district could be more "proactive" rather than "reactive". This request from the district certainly singled me out for asking questions that they don't like to answer. They could have just kept doing what they had been doing by not answering questions but then that's a completely different problem.
Receiving copies of the credit card statements has awakened the Fox C-6 community. It seems that a lot more people are paying attention now and are taking the time to review the data. It's definitely amusing to listen to people's comments as they read through the credit card statements for the first time. There are those purchases that just jump out at you such as "The Disney Store", the "Drunken Noodle", payments to Political Action Committees for school district administrators as well as Red Light Traffic tickets and the almost daily purchase of meals from local or out of town establishments such as the "Swinging Doors Saloon". Then there was the $1000 purchase at Walmart on the same day of another $418.07 purchase at Walmart.
Of course, there were legitimate purchases made by Family and Consumer Science (FACS) teachers that were purchasing "instructional materials" for their classrooms. So please know, that many purchases for Save-A-Lot, Walmart and Shop-n-Save are valid purchases. But, you shouldn't be finding that many charges from our superintendents at Walmart, Shop-n-Save or Save-A-Lot.
The cost to obtain Fox's credit card statements was originally $170 but was eventually FREE!
Watching people's reactions as they review the credit card statements, PRICELESS!!
It's pretty easy to see why people are upset. Just read what school district administrators were spending our taxpayer dollars on while telling the public that the district didn't have money for various things.
Below are the emails documenting my correspondence with the Fox C-6 Board of Education, Assistant Superintendent Andy Arbeitman and Assistant Superintendent Dr. Lorenzo Rizzi for the months of February through May of 2014 as I attempted to obtain the district's credit card statements. Getting answers to questions has been a problem for several years despite what Superintendent Critchlow told the public as you will see when I had to repeat my questions and email multiple times.
Hopefully, this documentation will give the public a lot better understanding as to how these problems have been allowed to go on for so long without anyone knowing about them.
It also helps to know that school board meeting minutes don't document very well what was said during Public Comment like audio or video recordings do. If they had, the public might have known much sooner what was being investigated which may have led to more people questioning our board and things might not have gotten so out of hand.
[Responses to Mr. Arbeitman's email in red]
- the School Board may refuse to respond to a public question/concern about Board actions unless the resident “first” submits their concern to you
- you, Andy Arbeitman, an employee of the school district, hold the authority to prescreen questions and concerns from members of the public to determine if, in your assessment, the concern is “valid” or not “valid” for consideration by the Board
- the Board has made the decision to abdicate its responsibility and has expressly delegated its authority to you to determine if questions/concerns from the public are “valid” or not “valid” and deserving of a reply from them
From: Rich Simpson
Sent: Monday, April 28, 2014 7:07 AM
To: Rizzi, Dr. Lorenzo - CO Admin; Laughlin, John - Director
Cc: John Laughlin
Subject: RE: response to public comments
Dr. Rizzi and Mr. Laughlin,
I appreciate your efforts in providing more transparency for the Fox C-6 community. However, in order for the transparency to be meaningful, the reports must be accurate. As I pointed out to Dr. Rizzi a couple of weeks ago in my email, the Vendor Names will need to be correct on the report for credit card payments otherwise the new reports will raise even more questions about the purchases.
The credit card payments should also have a transaction description listed with them other than CARD SERVICES or AMERICAN EXPRESS similar to the check payments. Perhaps the empty LINE AMOUNT column can be used to populate the credit card account on the report. If the community cannot trust the information being supplied by the district, the district will need to provide the credit card statements along with the Bill Payments Report in the board packets as I have previously requested.
I have not received a response from my Sunshine Request regarding the waiving of the $170 fee to obtain the credit card statements for the year. As I stated at the April 2014 Fox C-6 school board meeting, the credit card statements are public record and are not for personal or commercial interest. Providing the credit card statements to the community is for the interest of everyone in the Fox C-6 community. Therefore, I renew my request for the district to provide PDF copies of the credit statements for the 2013-2014 school year and that the school district waives any fees for providing that information. The new copiers recently procured by the district have a scan to PDF or network function making it very easy to produce a PDF document of the credit card statements.
Once the new Bill Payments Report format is updated to provide the correct information, I ask that all of the 2013-2014 school board packets be updated to include the new information provided in the new report. This will help reduce questions regarding this year’s payments. The board packets are already quickly updated each month with the late materials bill payments and replacing those pages with the new report should not take very long.
I attached a copy of the sample Bill Payments report that Dr. Rizzi emailed me on Wednesday April 16, 2014. I rotated the report 90 degrees to make it easier to read.
- The bill details will be posted on the website and placed in board packets as conveyed in the sample bill descriptions I provided to you previously.
- The bill details will be placed on the website and in the board packets from this point forward.
- Your request to waive the fee of $170 has not been granted. We would be happy to complete the request upon payment.