Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What's Good for the Goose...? If Sandy Did It, Janet Will Too.

 
I found a very surprising article in today's paper (3/20/2012), "Current State Education Department Officials Used Funds From Nonprofit Foundation". This, after the breaking story last week "Oklahoma Education Department Spent $2.3 Million Through Slush Funds, Audit Claims" about State Superintendent Janet Barresi's predecessor, Sandy Garrett.

Let's do some brief analysis here by breaking down each event separately so we can compare:

SANDY GARRET'S ADMINISTRATION:
  • 2 accounts found totaling 2.3 million over the course of 10 years
  • Monies were collected from private sources to fund two events/year = Encyclomedia and The Superintendent's Annual Leadership Conference
  • Non-profit Oklahoma Curriculum Improvement Commission held both accounts composed of private funds 
  • Monies transferred in 2010 to Oklahoma State School Boards Association (a non-profit association) who managed the accounts for 25,000/yr fee (Barresi closed and had remaining 783.51 deposited into Foundation for Innovation in Education account though Communications Director Damon Gardenhire said initially they did not - they were deposited in a revolving fund - oops?)
  • Former Republican State Chairman, auditor Gary Jones, maintains both accounts were "off book" and unknown to the boards of either OCIC or OSSBA
  • Donations to the accounts made by vendors that had, "multimillion contracts with the Education Department for various education services"
  • Donations went to pay for "alcohol, food and lodging" including a chocolate fountain and kegs of beer
    • Food and alcohol at at 2005 reception cost $12,694 

JANET BARRESI'S ADMINISTRATION:

  • 1 account found with no dollar figure given according to the Oklahoman but possibly $213,747 over the course of 1 year (right about 2.3 million over 10 years at that rate)
  • Monies were collected from private sources to fund Innovation 2011
  • Non-profit Foundation for Innovation in Education held the account composed of private funds
  • Foundation board (paper did not indicate how board members were chosen) managed the account 
  • Finances handled by CPA (Pam Pollard, Vice-Chair of the Republican Party)
  • It is unclear how Foundation board members were chosen but board dissolved directly after meeting was held
  • Origination of donations to account not disclosed by the Oklahoman
  • Auditor Gary Jones said he knows about Barresi's account, but did not look into it.
  • Donations went to pay for vendor space, rooms, convention space and audio gear (as per the Oklahoman, totaling approximately $154,226)
    • Food (without alcohol) for reception and superintendent's lunch cost $12,612

I think we can stop there, as I hope most everyone is getting the picture. Apparently, misdeeds are in the eye of whomever's party is represented by the person sitting in the chair!

Yes, there has been impropriety alleged by the OSDE under the tutelage of Sandy Garrett. Here is an interesting blog alleging firsthand (hearsay) knowledge of such impropriety. Certainly, one can peruse the entire State Auditor's report for themselves to determine exactly how far reaching was this alleged "corruption" at Garrett's OSDE.

I think two things are important to note here:
  1. This sounds just like the VERY PARTISAN stink that was raised over Janet Barresi's initial meeting with her board that led to Republicans running to her aid and producing legislation (before the air had even cleared) to give her power over her board. (As a side note, I tend to agree with the opinion of this blogger on that issue)
  2. Janet Barresi - as her first order of business as State Superintendent - funded no less than THREE STATE employees with PRIVATE funds. The board asked that the AG's opinion be sought on the legality of the matter of the hires, but Barresi simply blocked the motion (in imperious fashion) during the regular board meeting. Senator Andrew Rice then asked for a ruling instead. AG Pruitt ruled AGAINST Barresi, calling the hires (who had been working in the department prior to the board meeting at which they were to be approved for hire - against state law) "usurper(s) who lacks the authority to carry out the official duties of the State".
Where is the persecution/prosecution of/for Dr. Barresi? Why does she get a 'pass'? Blind allegiance by members of her own party to the party?

I am closing with the comment I made to Megan Rolland's article of today:

Wait...did nobody digest the fact that the State Department of Education - through a Foundation OF THEIR OWN CREATION (members of which were hand picked by the Department and not an outside group) pay for VENDOR rooms and space? WHAT? So I can essentially go to one of these great "INNOVATION IN EDUCATION" meetings (paid for by a private entity) as a vendor and not only retain the money from the goods/services I am selling but also be TREATED to a room and free vendor space? Does that not just trip anyone's sense of sensibility there?
No wonder some of the attendees I spoke with felt as though they were there to be 'sold' on different items, not to become 'educated' on current teaching practices. So was this 'convention' for educational purposes or to scratch the backs of vendors so the OSDE can get back-door deals?
Let's not forget as well, that the OSDE had a PRIVATE agency pay for the salaries of two employees that the Board didn't like. Where's the accountability for a STATE FUNDED agency if they simply solicit private funds to do whatever they like?
Sorry, I'm a Republican and this doesn't look good at all for our team. What old saying applies here? "Judge not lest ye be judged?", "Do unto others..."?, ["What's good for the goose is good for the gander"?]