DeSOTO, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) – Public records reveal years of questionable spending by top administrators within DeSoto ISD, a district now under investigation by DeSoto Police and the Texas Education Agency.
The Board of Trustees recently voted to borrow $6 million in the form of a tax anticipation note in order to maintain operations.
Shortly after that, the district made news for delaying teacher paychecks close to Thanksgiving.
But credit card statements detailing antiques, luxury hotels and rides around Sin City show the district’s spending problems predate last fall.
In December 2014, a video showed then-Assistant Superintendent Gabrielle Lemonier and her husband riding a gondola in Venice.
“Merry Christmas!” Lemonier said on the recording. “We’re on day 14 of this trip, it’s going great.”
Lemonier partially paid for her personal European vacation with her DeSoto ISD credit card.
She’s not the only one who used her district card for personal purchases.
Records show Assistant Superintendent Levatta Levels on vacation in August 2017 during the same time she used her district-issued card to charge a dozen Uber trips around Las Vegas.
That same summer, then-Superintendent David Harris attended a three-day conference in San Francisco.
But Harris didn’t fly in until after the event’s first day ended.
On the third day, receipts show he was 70 miles away, eating lunch north of Napa.
Harris spent two extra days in California after the conference ended, charging the hotel, rental car, and meals to DeSoto ISD.
The questionable charges go back as far as 2013 when Harris booked flights to Los Angeles for his wife and three children, and Lemonier bought a ticket to Fort Lauderdale for her husband.
Dr. D’Andre Weaver became DeSoto’s new superintendent last fall.
Since then, he says the district has been reviewing whether funds were previously misused.
“I think there was an opportunity to be smarter and more conscious with what was being done,” Weaver said.
Weaver has already instituted significant changes.
He ended the practice of issuing credit cards to administrators. Instead, employees must sign out a card for an approved purpose beforehand. Every expense must also be approved by a supervisor.
“We’ve put in a number of controls that have decreased spending in those areas,” Weaver said.
The new superintendent’s changes also address luxury lodging.
Credit card statements show charges at the Four Seasons in Austin, the W Hotel and Hotel Zaza in Dallas.
“We don’t have to select the best options for lodging, but just the ones that are most sufficient,” Weaver said.
The I-Team discovered 165 hotel stays booked on district cards between 2015 and 2017. But the district could only provide a reason for travel in 35 percent of those trips.
“Why was there so much documentation missing from these trips?” CBS 11 asked.
“It’s hard for me to answer to something I wasn’t a part of, but I can tell you now we have a number of processes in place and expectations,” Weaver said.
Records provided by DeSoto ISD show in many cases, administrators were approving their own expenses, as indicated by a $250 tablecloth labeled as a “security expense” and $1,000 spent on seven custom bobblehead dolls for school board appreciation night.
In one two-week period before Christmas 2013, Lemonier charged more than $2,000 at Ross, Belk, Hobby Lobby and an antique mall.
She recently told the I-Team those purchases covered decorations for the office Christmas party.
Lemonier also provided handwritten receipts showing she paid back at least $600 for her personal expenses, including the flight for her husband.
Lemonier said that procedure was allowed under the previous superintendent.
But Weaver said under his watch, no one should ever use public money for personal reasons.
“We’re doing our absolute best to turn this ship around and move it in a direction that’s acceptable to everyone,” Weaver said.
David Harris now works at Galena Park ISD, near Houston. He did not respond to our requests for comment. Lemonier now works for a college after leaving DeSoto ISD at the end of the 2017-2018 school year.
Levels still works for DeSoto ISD. The district is still reviewing Level’s previous spending.
On Tuesday, DeSoto ISD provided a new batch of receipts that show Lemonier paid back more than $2,000 in expenses made on her district credit card.
Several receipts do not specify the charges, and a district spokeswoman could not clarify whether Lemonier repaid all personal expenses she made using her district credit card.