GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) – Grand Prairie ISD has released a report detailing how its superintendent, Dr. Susan Hull, spent $160,000 of district money to renovate her home. The district bought the property in 2016 for $694,500 and rents it to Hull for $1,000 a month.
When some of the spending came to light in 2017, the board promised to get answers. Then-board president Steve Pryor said the district would hire a law firm to conduct an independent investigation into the purchase and renovations at the property on South Carrier Parkway.
The board received the law firm’s report in February, but sources tell Consumer Justice that trustees could not agree on how much information to release. The full report is close to 40 pages long and includes interviews with 28 people, plus 800 exhibits.
Wednesday evening, Pryor urged his fellow trustees to be more transparent. “We’re about to vote to release this heavily-redacted report. I’m going to vote no, because I think the community deserves to see the full report. It’s a shame that we’re only going to release ten pages.”
None of the board members responded to Pryor’s comments; the vote to release the redacted version passed 5-2. Board Vice President Gloria Carrillo was the other ‘nay’ vote.
The excerpt made public details just how little board members knew about the work at Hull’s home, including:
-The scope of renovations was not presented to the board.
-None of the costs related to the renovation were presented to the board for approval.
-When he asked about the work, the then-board president was told it involved “painting and carpeting.”
Investigators say district employees couldn’t agree on who decided to renovate the home or how it was assigned to the construction company. Also unclear: the exact start date of the renovations.
Pryor even questioned how Hull came to live there. “At some point a decision is made to lease [the home] to the superintendent, however the report still doesn’t tell us who made that decision.”
The original budget for the renovations was close to $80,000, but according to the report, accountants found another $80,000 spent on tile, countertops, ceiling fans, plumbing and electrical work and other improvements. “I believe it’s clearly a conflict of interest when the superintendent is using taxpayer money on what’s going to be her residence, without board approval. But clearly that opinion puts me in the minority on this board.”
Pryor says in-fighting over the report is what led to his ousting as board president. “I was branded as not a team player. I will tell you this. I’m team taxpayer. I’m team accountability.”
OTHER PURCHASING PROBLEMS
The report also delved into purchasing procedures throughout the district to identify any “splitting” of invoices. Splitting refers to paying a vendor in multiple installments to avoid exceeding $50,000; doing so can be considered a misdemeanor in Texas.
State code requires districts to go through a “competitive procurement” for any aggregate purchase over $50,000. Usually vendors will submit bids, which go to the school board for approval.
GPISD’s policy delegates purchasing authority to the superintendent except for “any single, budgeted purchase of goods or services that costs $50,000 or more.” In that case, policy states the transaction requires board approval.
The report found during an 18-month period, the GPISD administration paid 50 vendors more than $50,000 in multiple installments; none of the purchases went to the board for approval. Still, the report says it found no intentional wrongdoing by district employees and many employees did not understand the policy. The report ends with recommendations to update the purchasing policy to make it clearer and to add “controls and features” to notify employees if the $50,000 limit is reached.
CBS 11 News approached Dr. Hull after the meeting:
Cristin: Strong words from board member Pryor. He said a lot. He said ten pages is not enough and you should release the 40 pages. What do you say to that?
Dr. Hull: I can’t speak to Mr. Pryor’s dissatisfaction with the report. This was done by independent counsel. And the counsel and this board, a number of employees worked together for almost a year to put together a report that is complete, that answered the questions from the board members, so I certainly can’t speak to one board member’s spoken dissatisfaction about it. But, um, you can see from the vote that the board has opened it up, it’s to the public, I think you have a copy of it already and I hope you’ll take the time to read it.
Cristin: Why not release the full report, all 40 pages?
Dr. Hull: This is the report that our independent counsel – who did the investigation – has brought forth and recommended be released. And again, I can’t speak to the dissatisfaction of one board member – I haven’t heard him say all of those things before.
Cristin: But let’s take him out of it. Why not just be transparent and if you paid for this investigation with taxpayer money, why not just put the whole report out there?
Dr. Hull: For almost a year, independent counsel worked with the board, interviewed people, looked at all kinds of records and made recommendations to us and put the information together in the report. So that independent counsel has presented this to us. It’s the report that is the official report to be released.
Cristin: So they’re saying, just do nine pages. This law firm is saying just do nine pages?
Dr. Hull: Independent counsel. Independent report. For almost a year. And this is the report that the, that the board has approved for public consumption tonight. Yes ma’am.
Cristin: I’m sorry to keep asking the same question but I just don’t understand, why not do the 40 pages?
Dr. Hull: Independent counsel… did an independent report, conducted an independent report at the request of the former board president. And that has taken almost a full year. And the report that you have in your hand tonight, that I hope you’ll take the time to read, answers the questions that the majority of this board asked for. This board is not asking for more than what they have.
Cristin: But what about the public?
Dr. Hull: Pause. Tell me the, ask me the, ask me your question.
Cristin: If the board doesn’t want to release the 40 pages, what if the public wants to read the full report?
Dr. Hull: Tonight, this board acted in good faith to release a very complete and accurate report that was done by independent counsel. And I cannot respond to the dissatisfaction or even the comments that one board member brought forward. That isn’t a part of this report.
She then ended the interview.
GPISD board president Terry Brooks released the following statement:
The school board extends its gratitude to Lynn Rossi Scott, an attorney with Brackett & Ellis, for the in-depth review and for providing a very thorough and insightful report regarding certain purchases of the Grand Prairie Independent School District. We are very pleased this report confirms we have an excellent staff that is focused on what’s best for the District and our students. We accept the findings in this report and, after consultation with Ms. Scott, have agreed to release it to the public.
We agree that our Board policy should be updated to improve the clarity of the policy’s intent and to give clear guidance on its implementation. The Board will ask the superintendent to work with the developers of Skyward (the District’s financial management system) to put additional controls and features into place as recommended in the report to ensure employees are notified automatically when expenditure limits are reached. We agree with the recommendation that the Board should approve all Guaranteed Maximum Price amendments regardless of the amount, and that the District should adjust its processes to establish that payments will be based on pay applications and not invoices.
This report is an excellent resource as we continue to improve District operations. We are proud to have one of the best superintendents in Texas at the helm of the Grand Prairie Independent School District and she will do an outstanding job in helping to implement these recommendations.