GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) – Consumer Justice continues to fight for answers about the investigation into spending at Grand Prairie ISD.
The 2018-19 school year is about to begin, but huge questions loom over how millions of dollars were spent in the last few years.
The controversy began in 2017 after questions were raised about spending at the home where the superintendent lives.
GPISD purchased it for $694,000 in 2015; Susan Hull rents it for $2,000 a month. Receipts show roughly $160,000 in work done at the property, including tile, granite counters, ceiling fans, and close to $45,000 in fencing.
None of those costs went to the school board for approval.
Steve Pryor, who was board president in 2017, promised a full investigation.
The district hired a law firm to look into expenses at the home and purchasing in general by district employees from November 2015 to June 2017. The law firm submitted its findings to the school board earlier this year.
According to Pryor, that report is close to 40 pages long with 800 pages of exhibits. In May the school board approved the release of just nine pages. “We’re about to vote to release this heavily-redacted report,” said Pryor. “I’m going to vote no, because I think the community deserves to see the full report.”
Pryor said he still had questions about who decided to purchase the home, how Hull ended up living there and how the upgrades were approved. “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,” said Pryor. “But clearly that opinion puts me in the minority on this board.”
None of the board members responded to Pryor’s comments.
Watch an excerpt from that meeting below:
After our first report in May, board member Burke Hall sent Consumer Justice a letter saying in part, “We as a board have been working with outside counsel during this process. The attorney advised us not to release all of the working papers. That process led us to release the final report that is now available to the public. We must protect our great team of employees who agreed to participate in the process and spoke freely with investigators with a promise from the leadership that their identities would be protected.”
DETAILS FROM THE SUMMARY
According to the summary, the original budget for renovations at the superintendent’s home was $80,000. Accountants found another $80,000 spent. According to the summary, “none of the costs related to the renovation of the property were presented to the board for approval.”
Attorneys 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.
Attorneys also investigated “whether it is common practice for district personnel to split purchase orders over the $50,000 board approval limit into multiple purchase orders.” They found approximately 48 vendors paid more than $50,000; that’s more than $2.4 million in taxpayer money spent without the board knowing or approving it.
Still, the report says it found no intentional wrongdoing by district employees. The report ends with recommendations to update and clarify the purchasing policy and to add “controls and features” to notify employees if the $50,000 limit is reached. An email from a GPISD spokesman in August said “staff began immediately to implement changes” but did not specifically address what those changes were. A follow-up email to Consumer Justice said, “Our board will be making policy changes this fall.” Read the report summary below, along with a letter from then-board president Terry Brooks.
The report has caused turmoil among trustees. In February the board voted to replace Pryor as president after they learned he had been the first to receive a draft of the findings. At that time, trustee Aaron King said there was “a lack of trust, a lack of faith” in Pryor. According to the meeting minutes Hull said “the entire investigation is about whether or not some of the Superintendent’s staff had expended funds in excess of $50,000 without board approval. Dr. Hull said she was certainly never in the position to approve that much money.”
Read the full minutes from that meeting below:
Consumer Justice submitted an open records request for the full report in May. A district spokesman responded in email saying in part, “Your team was provided a copy of the report at the May 30 meeting,” referring to the nine-page summary. The district’s attorneys later sent our request to the state Attorney General’s Office giving reasons for withholding the information and asking for a ruling. We are waiting on the AG’s decision.
UT Arlington ethics professor James Quick says more transparency is needed. “I mean we’re talking about a public trust here, not a private company.”
He says the nine-page summary leaves too many unanswered questions.
“This is the tip of the iceberg, and we don’t know what’s in the rest of the iceberg. Plain and simple.”
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