Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Our Education: Where Does All The Money Go?

Most colleges complain about tightening the budget belt and direct their budget crunches against faculty salary increases and elimination of student services. The money seems to be there, yet it is being allocated in the wrong places. Here are a few recent news stories that make us wonder how effective our tax dollars are being spent.

According to
The Chronicle of Higher Education, Eduardo J. Padrón, the President of Miami-Dade College, found a nice legal loophole to give himself almost a million dollars. As President, Padrón makes $400,000 a year. That didn't seem enough for him, so he retired... for an entire month. Thanks to the State of Florida, he was given an $893,000 payout. According to the article: "The deal is made possible by a Florida law that allows state employees to retire and collect benefits, then return to their jobs after 30 days if their employers are willing." How many students could have received scholarships to fund their college education with this money? How many books could have been bought for students or computers updated? How many faculty members could have been hired?

Former President of both Miami-Dade College and Santa Monica College, Piedad Robertson, is running into a little fiscal difficulty as well these days in her new position as president of the Education Commission of the States in Denver, Colorado. In a May 10, 2006 article by The Chronicle of Higher Education, entitled "
High-Level Exodus Heralds Trouble at Education Commission of the States," Kathy Christie, the Vice President of Information Management & ECS Clearinghouse, turned in a resignation letter on or about May 4, 2006. In her resignation letter, she warned that the future of the ECS is "in jeopardy." She further explained, "Our cash-flow position is dire, which immediately impacts the ability of the organization to sustain itself."

The ECS's cash-flow position is dire? According to the ECS's 2003 Form 990 non-profit tax return, the ECS reported gross receipts of $9,716,099. Under the supervision of then President Ted Sanders, the ECS reeled in direct public support of $2,453,934 and another $2,526,319 in government contributions and grants. That's over a half million dollars. Alleged unspecified "other employee benefits" were reported to total $914,078. The Texas Association of Community Colleges threw in $61,081 in the ECS's direction that year.

The ECS is allegedly drawing on a $1 million line of credit. Kathy Christie is disputing President Robertson's claims that the financial picture will improve with the infusion of state member dues. Christie contends that a report to the group’s steering committee did not “accurately disclose the financial realities facing ECS.” Three other employees have also resigned in recent months. According to the ECS's website, Cristie's job description was as follows:

Kathy Christie serves as vice president for Knowledge Management & ECS Clearinghouse, where staff collect and analyze research, track state and district reforms and analyze the various reforms in the states. Clearinghouse staff respond to requests concerning policy and prepare issue sites for the ECS Web site. Prior to working with ECS, Christie worked as a freelance writer, a secondary language arts teacher, juvenile detention center counselor and was employed with the National Conference of State Legislatures. She has served on the board of directors for the Colorado Association of School Boards and is completing a third term on a local school board. Christie writes a monthly "Stateline" for the Phi Delta Kappan magazine.

During the 2003 tax period, Kathy Christie is reported as receiving a salary of $103,005 for her senior vice-president position at the ECS. This was less than half of what the president receives. Charles Coble, Vice President for Policy Studies and Programs no longer appears in the ECS website, nor does William Shade. Robertson has received two no votes of confidence, one as Secretary of Education in Massachusetts and another as President of Santa Monica College. It appears her track record is following her into her position as head of the ECS. Winniphred Stone, Vice President of Planning and Development for the ECS, continues to be glued by Robertson's side. Stone was the senior policy analyst in the Executive Office of Education in Massachusetts under Robertson and held various administrative positions for Robertson when she ran Santa Monica College.

Miami Dade College President Eduardo PadronECS President Piedad RobertsonUC Santa Cruz Chancellor Denice Denton
From left to right: Eduardo J. Padrón, Piedad Robertson, and Denice Denton

Some senior education administrators do not take their financial situations very well. Just over the weekend, on or about June 24, 2006, 46 year-old UC Santa Cruz Chancellor, Denice Dee Denton plunged to her death from her high-rise apartment. Her mother alleges that her severe depression over scrutiny of her financial transactions with the school led to her apparent suicide. Denton reeled in a salary of $282,000 while providing her gay lover of seven years, Gretchen Kalonji, with a salary of $192,000 for a management position.

Denton billed the school approximately $600,000 of upgrades to her campus home, including a $30,000 fence for her dogs and an expensive sound-system. Denton was criticized by the UC labor union and mobbed on at least one occasion by UCSC students. Protestors also visited her controversial campus home. Denton was also part of an executive compensation scandal due to failure to disclosure benefits at the time of hiring.

In New York, former Roslyn schools superintendent, Frank A. Tassone, 58, plead guilty last September to stealing $2 million from the school system over a six-year period. According to the blog,
Jerry Moore's School Talk:

The $2 million Dr. Tassone admitted to stealing paid for vacations, meals, dry cleaning bills, furniture, dermatology treatments, car loans, real estate investments and personal expenses averaging about $20,000 a month in some years. In a separate admission, he said he submitted $219,000 worth of fake invoices on behalf of his partner, Mr. Signorelli, for the printing of school handbooks.

Tassone also spent the money on "liposuction and diet treatments." Like most white collar criminals once caught, Tassone agreed to turn in other top school administrators, who allegedly worked together in a fraud scheme within the district that cost the taxpayers an estimated $11 million. Tassone agreed to make restitution and repay his ill-gotten gains.

In Illinois, Sauk Village schools superintendent, Thomas Ryan, age 53, was charged in August 2005 with several felonies including "theft, bribery, intimidation, harassment of a witness, obstruction of justice and official misconduct." Ryan allegedly stole $100,000 from what is allegedly an extremely financially impoverished school district. Investigators allegedly seized $730,000 in hidden cash from Ryan's home. Former Sauk Village school board president Louise Morales was also charged with "theft, official misconduct and misapplication of funds." If convicted, Ryan could potentially face thirty years in prison.

While engaging in numerous criminal conduct, Ryan ironically had a zero tolerance policy against children in his schools, disciplining innocent homeless children for failing to meet the school's dress code. Despite earning a yearly salary of $183,000, Ryan allocated $70,000 of his stolen funds to pay for his three daughters' college tuition. Meanwhile, he was denying fee waivers to students who couldn't afford to attend school and retaliated by denying students basic rights for failure to pay fees, such as not being able to attend graduation or school field trips. Ryan went so far as to allegedly threaten to break witnesses legs if they testified against him or provided information to investigators.

It seems that the more one takes the time to investigate our educational system, the more one sees that many senior administrators are not working as public servants of the students, parents, and community nor are these administrators guardians of our sacred funds. School boards turn their backs and governmental agencies in charge of oversight are under-funded and ill equipped to investigate. It seems that the monitoring of our educational system and an insistence on transparency and accountability are left in the hands of those responsible and concerned citizens who will not rest until justice is served.

-- Des Manttari,
Phoenix Genesis

(c) 2006: Phoenix Genesis/MBS LP

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