Oklahoma City Councilman Ryan invited Oklahoma City School Board Member Lyn Watson onto his weekly show. Here’s what she had to say about the happenings of District 1.
Here’s some news out of the capitol:
OKLAHOMA CITY – Legislation approved by the Oklahoma House of Representatives would implement better intervention efforts when students are identified as needing counseling.
House Bill 2641, by state Rep. Lee Denney, creates the Twenty-first Century Successful Living Act. The legislation would require the Office of Juvenile Affairs and the Oklahoma Association of Youth Services to identify an evidence-based counseling curriculum for schools.
“This legislation will allow schools to be more proactive dealing with students who are in need of counseling to help them resolve the issues that may prevent these kids from succeeding in school and becoming productive citizens,” said Denney, R-Cushing. “Hopefully, we can put a lot of troubled youth back on the path to being model students.”
Under the bill, the Office of Juvenile Affairs would make the counseling available to students and school districts through designated youth service agencies.
If the bill becomes law, each of the existing 41 youth services agencies would train two staff and deliver services to approximately 75 students, for a total of 6,150 students served in the coming fiscal year.
During the second year of the program, the number of students served would double to 12,300. During the third year of the program, the agency expects to serve 18,450 students.
House Bill 2641 passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives on a 70-15 vote. It now awaits a hearing in the state Senate.
TULSA, Okla. – Oklahoma-based Crowe & Dunlevy law firm has selected first-year University of Tulsa College of Law student DeVon Douglass as the first recipient of its $2,000 minority scholarship. The Minority Scholar Program provides this assistance for a minority student who qualifies based on academic achievement, financial need and commitment to the law.
“We are proud to support diversity of the legal profession through our Minority Scholar Program at TU Law,” said Susan Huntsman, a director with the firm’s Tulsa office and member of the firm’s diversity committee. “DeVon is the first of what we hope to be many students whom Crowe & Dunlevy is able to help pursue successful careers in the field of law.”
Douglass is active in the Black Law Student Association at TU Law, serving as the group’s historian. Her professional experience includes serving as a student representative with LexisNexis and as a file clerk for the Saint Louis County Courthouse. During her undergraduate career at Missouri State University, she served as president of the Association of Black Collegians. She received a bachelor of arts in sociology from Missouri State.
The Minority Scholar Program scholarships may be renewed for a recipient in each of the two remaining years of law school, based on satisfactory progress and performance. Crowe & Dunlevy plans to award one scholarship each year, resulting in three recipients simultaneously receiving assistance from the program.
Crowe & Dunlevy has made the commitment to provide funds for the program for the next five years at TU Law. The firm offers similar scholarship opportunities at other law schools.
OSDE officials expended funds from an unofficial and unauthorized bank account for questionable items and purchases related to an OSDE sponsored conference with no official oversight while also avoiding public scrutiny.
As noted in Finding #1, OSDE officials confirmed they were collecting funds, creating reports, or doing other work related to OCIC while also serving as OSDE employees. Under the provisions of 62 O.S. § 34.57(B) previously cited in this report, it is the duty of “each state agency, officer, or employee to deposit…all monies of every kind” into the agency clearing account or special account.
Since the funds collected by the OSDE officials were not deposited into an official state account, there was no governmental oversight and little transparency outside of other OSDE officials in how the funds were expended. This allowed OSDE officials to pay for beer, wine, and other mixed drinks with no independent oversight while also avoiding public scrutiny.
For example, on July 10, 2007, OSDE officials, Tom White and Dr. Cindy Koss, signed a check payable to Bricktown Brewery for $6,875.00 with the notation “Leadership Reception.” We found a receipt with the notation “DEPT OF EDU” in the same $6,875.00 amount, which included $2,800.00 for beer and wine, $2,725.00 for appetizers, $500.00 for a band, $800.00 for gratuity, and a $1,300.00 “service charge.”
The receipt, which had been copied to a larger sheet of paper, included the handwritten notation, “State Superintendent’s Leadership Reception,” and was signed as “correct” by Tom White and “approved” by Dr. Ramona Paul, who was also an OSDE official.
We found a similar invoice dated in 2006 to Bricktown Brewery in the amount of $7,350.00. The invoice included $3,200.00 for 1600 “draft beers, well drinks or house wine” as well as $1,000.00 for “band with sound and lights.” We obtained a check register reflecting the payment was made from the Leadership account on July 11, 2006, but no other records were provided indicating who authorized or approved the payment.
A $4,522.10 payment was made from the Leadership account on July 8, 2008, and supported by a receipt from Chelino’s Mexican Restaurant. The receipt supporting the payment included various types of alcoholic beverages.
The receipt had been copied onto a larger sheet of paper, and included the handwritten notation “Superintendent’s Reception at Leadership Conference.” It was also signed by Tom White and Dr. Paul.
A check, also dated July 8, 2008, was written from the Leadership account to Chelino’s for $4,522.10. The check was signed by Tom White and Dr. Cindy Koss, who also was an OSDE official at the time the check was written.
We noted other payments from the account in 2008 were related to the State Superintendent’s Leadership Conference including $63,397 for “production costs,” $23,820 for “decorator charges,” and $12,233 for “catering and room charges.”
Although many of the expenditures from the Leadership account related to the Superintendent’s Leadership Conference, we also found expenditures being made from the account related to various other aspects of OSDE.
For example, on February 21, 2007, a check was written from the Leadership account for $9,059.29 payable to the “Renaissance Oklahoma City.” The check included the notation “Special Ed. Conference.”
Keep in mind: this audit was done for July 1, 2008, to June 30, 2011. Sandy Garrett was the superintendent until Janet Barressi took over Jan. 10, 2011. Barressi is the one who requested this investigation.
As we find out more about this, I’m going to post some excerpts from the audit here on the Education Station blog. Here’s the executive summary of the report:
We performed a special audit/investigation, pursuant to a request by the Department of Education (OSDE), in accordance with the requirements of 74 O.S. 2001, § 227.8. The concerns we investigated included concerns related to travel claims filed by a now former OSDE official. We have previously issued a report related to those concerns.
During our investigation of the circumstances surrounding the official’s travel claims, we obtained records from a hotel which included a check on an account that, although not an authorized account of the State of Oklahoma, listed an address of 2500 N. Lincoln Blvd, Oklahoma City, the address of the Oliver Hodge State Office Building where OSDE is located.
We began an inquiry to determine who or what entity was using a bank account listing the address of a State Office building. Through our inquiry we identified three accounts being managed by OSDE employees that were not official accounts for the State of Oklahoma.
Over a period of years OSDE employees have been soliciting and receiving donations and/or receiving funds for booth space rental at various conferences then depositing those funds in accounts purporting to be accounts belonging to a private nonprofit organization.
The Oklahoma Curriculum Improvement Commission (OCIC), is a non-profit organization whose board members were aware that OSDE officials were managing one account, an operating account, but were not aware OSDE officials had opened and were operating two other accounts under the OCIC name. From interviews with OSDE officials and employees, as well as records we obtained, it appeared not only were the OCIC board members unaware of the accounts, but some of the OSDE officials may have deliberately concealed those accounts from the OCIC board of directors.
These off-book and unauthorized accounts allowed OSDE officials to pay, at a single event, $2,600 for 85 bottles of wine and 3 kegs of beer and $5,700 for food items including a “chocolate fountain,” “Maryland crab cakes,” “mini beef wellingtons,” and “smoked salmon mousse in a puff pastry,” without following any of the requirements normally associated with government expenditures.
Later, as the accounts were being separated, OSDE employees orchestrated the movement of $14,899 from one “OCIC” account to another “OCIC” account. Then arranged for another third party entity, the Oklahoma Director’s of Special Services, to create another third party account and moved the money to that newly created account.
The Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector (OSAI) is the independent financial oversight body responsible for auditing the books and financial records of OSDE. These accounts were not audited by the OSAI because the existence of the accounts had never been disclosed to OSAI. The accounts were not official accounts for the State of Oklahoma and would not have appeared on any official listing of the OSDE accounts.
A “slush fund” is typically regarded as an unregulated fund that has little if any oversight and which can be used with little or no accountability. The accounts we identified appear to have been operated as slush fund accounts allowing OSDE officials to issue payments shielded from governmental oversight as well as public scrutiny.
Over a period of 10 years, in excess of $2.3 million has been expended from these accounts.
The Oklahoma State Auditor is responsible for investigating irregularities in governmental agencies and routinely performs financial investigations into questionable matters concerning the operations of state and local governments. However, the Oklahoma State Auditor lacks the authority to perform special or investigative audits unless requested to do so by other statutorily defined offices.
We have reported the results of our limited inquiry into these accounts, identified additional concerns related to the accounts, as well as the actions and activities of the state employees involved with the accounts.
Keep in mind: this audit was done for July 1, 2008, to June 30, 2011. Sandy Garrett was the superintendent until Janet Barressi took over Jan. 10, 2011.
Auditors have discovered three secret banks accounts used by the state Education Department. Check back to NewsOK.com for more as this develops. Here’s the auditor’s press release for now:
OKLAHOMA CITY – State Auditor Gary Jones released a supplemental investigative report today requested by the Oklahoma State Department of Education.
This supplemental investigative report follows an initial special audit report released January 4, 2012, which reviewed travel claims by a former state education department official.
“Superintendent Janet Barresi and the state School Board originally asked for a special audit regarding some suspicious travel claims by a former employee,” said State Auditor Gary Jones. “Information came to light during that investigation that suggested a much bigger problem had existed at the State Department of Education.
“We brought the information to the attention of Superintendent Barresi and requested permission to continue to investigate the existence of a previously unknown bank account,” Jones said. “We appreciate her full support and assistance in this matter.”
During the course of this limited investigation, the State Auditor became aware of three unauthorized, previously unknown bank accounts that were utilized as a slush fund to spend more than $2.3 million over a 10-year period. The use of these accounts allowed former State Education Department Officials to issue payments shielded from government oversight as well as public scrutiny.
SAI investigators spent many hours reviewing documents and conducting interviews during the course of this investigation.
The supplemental investigative report is available at the State Auditor’s website, www.sai.ok.gov
Rep. David Brumbaugh, R-Broken Arrow, came up with this idea. Here’s a press release he sent out:
OKLAHOMA CITY – Legislation approved by the Oklahoma House of Representatives would “give teeth” to the School District Transparency Act, according to the bill’s author.
Under House Bill 2644, by state Rep. David Brumbaugh, school districts and the Oklahoma Board of Education would lose funding if they fail to comply with the School District Transparency Act.
“I authored this bill because taxpayers have a right to know how their tax dollars are spent in our schools and lawmakers need to have financial data to make appropriation decisions,” said Brumbaugh (R-Broken Arrow).
The legislation authorizes the Office of State Finance to withhold administrative and support funds from the Oklahoma State Board of Education if it does not include data on its website required by the School District Transparency Act. The withholding would be 1 percent of total appropriations for administrative and support functions and would increase by 1 percent for each subsequent month of noncompliance. If noncompliance continued after five months, 8 percent would be withheld.
“The main thrust of this bill is to get more data posted online at the state level, but I also felt that we should address school districts,” Brumbaugh said. “I did try to give the school districts a lot of leeway so they are not punished for an honest mistake, but only for being out of compliance for months and months.”
House Bill 2644 was approved by a vote of 87-2 and now proceeds to the Senate for consideration.