Arizona Governing Board Skipped Town To Avoid Public At Public Meetings

gadsden elementary

The Arizona Auditor General released a remarkable audit last week of the Gadsden Elementary School District. Auditors discovered that the Governing Board has been leaving the state on the taxpayer’s dime to escape those  pesky taxpayers.

Not only has the Board left town on occasion, they left kids in the hands of unqualified employees, and in some cases paid employees for work they did not do.

The actions and inaction of the Gadsden Elementary School District leadership as outlined in the audit reminds educators of the same sort of absurdity found in a Dr. Seuss book.

“Oh The Place We’ll Go”

The District located in San Luis on the Arizona-California border serves 5,000 students. The median household income (in 2018 dollars) in San Luis was $34,122. The per capita income (in 2018 dollars) was $12,913. The poverty rate in 2018 was 27.4 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

While the residents of San Luis would likely struggle to afford even a day trip to the swanky Coronado Island, the District’s five-person Governing Board has taken an annual trip there for a decade, according to the audit.

“When we asked District officials about their decision to hold this meeting out of State, they responded that the District held this meeting in California to limit interruptions from the public,” wrote auditors. “The District continued to include on the agenda the call to the public item, which would generally be a time when members of the public attending the meeting could voice any questions or concerns directly to the Board. According to the meeting minutes, there were no responses during the call to the public, likely because the District chose to hold the meeting somewhere that would provide them less interruptions.”

According to auditors, in 2018 the District “spent $16,309 for Board members and select staff to attend the Coronado Island Board meeting, which was a much greater cost to the District than it would have been if the District had held the meeting locally. Further, lodging and meal costs associated with the trip exceeded maximum amounts allowed by the State’s travel policy.” The 2018 meeting was held at the Coronado Marriot Resort and Spa.

The auditors found:

The District paid the resort directly for lodging and meal costs associated with the Coronado Island Board meeting instead of reimbursing Board members and staff for the costs through its typical travel reimbursement claim process.

Lodging and meal expenses associated with the Board meeting exceeded State travel policy maximum allowances by over $5,800 for just this 1 meeting.

  • Lodging—The District paid for 5 Board members and 9 District and school administrative staff to stay at the resort for 2 nights at a rate of $259 a night plus tax, totaling $9,200. However, the maximum allowable reimbursement rate as prescribed by ADOA for that time and location was $167 a night plus tax, which would have saved the District nearly $4,000 on rooms alone.
  • Meals—The District paid for a breakfast buffet, lunch buffet, and snack service through the hotel in addition to reimbursing Board members and staff for meals while traveling to and from Coronado Island. These expenses totaled $3,719. However, the maximum allowable meal reimbursement rates as prescribed by ADOA for the time of this trip would have been $40.50 total for breakfast, lunch, and dinner on each of the travel days, and $54 for the full day on travel status. Based on these requirements, each person could have been reimbursed up to $135 for the entire weekend, which would have saved the District nearly $1,900.

“If I Ran The Circus”

While Governing Board members were travelling in luxury, adults did not make sure the kids were even travelling safely. The auditors found:

District did not sufficiently ensure school bus passengers’ safety and welfare

District lacked adequate procedures to ensure bus drivers met certification requirements</>

  • The State’s Minimum Standards for School Buses and School Bus Drivers (Minimum Standards), administered by the Department of Public Safety (DPS), requires districts to ensure that bus drivers are properly licensed and receive physical examinations, random drug and alcohol tests, annual drug tests, physical performance tests, CPR and first aid certification, and refresher training.”
  • However, we found that the District did not have documentation to demonstrate that all its fiscal year 2018 bus drivers met these requirements. Specifically, only 2 of the 10 bus driver files we reviewed were complete. Further, the District did not have a sufficient process in place for random drug and alcohol testing. The Minimum Standards requires that 25 percent of drivers are randomly tested for drugs and 10 percent of drivers are randomly tested for alcohol per year. Although the District’s policy of sending someone for a random drug and alcohol test every other month likely meets the requirements in the Minimum Standards, the District did not have a systematic way of randomly selecting drivers for testing and could not provide documentation for who was tested and what the results were.”

“I Am Not Going To Get Up Today”

Not only did the District waste taxpayer money in an effort to avoid the public and allow employees to perform duties for which they were not certified, it paid some employees for time not worked. The auditors found:

District paid hourly employees for time not worked but lacked documentation showing that Board approved or was aware of these payments

District provided substantial paid holidays to hourly employees but lacked documentation showing that its Board approved or was aware of these payments

District paid some hourly employees for time not worked during the day but lacked documentation showing that its Board approved or was aware of these payments

  • Although the District’s contracts with its hourly employees included position and hourly payrate, the contracts did not include the number of hours hourly employees were to work, and this information was not available in other District documents.
  • When reviewing time sheets for a sample of employees, we noted that some employees’ time sheets did not appear to match their work schedules. For example, despite driving only morning and afternoon routes, many bus drivers claimed 8 hours of work each day. When asked about this, District officials stated that in previous years most bus drivers also had a midday route, and when those routes were discontinued, the District did not reduce the number of hours for which these employees were paid.
  • We also confirmed that these employees were not working in any other department during the day to earn that paid time if the morning and afternoon routes did not take 8 hours. We reviewed the District’s current (fiscal year 2020) bus route schedules, which the District confirmed were similar to prior year schedules and found that only 2 of the 19 full-time bus drivers are scheduled to work 8 hours each day.
  • The remaining 17 drivers’ scheduled hours range from 6 to 7.75 hours each day, yet according to District officials, each of these employees continues to receive 8 hours of pay daily. Similar to paying hourly employees for holidays, the District did not have any documentation to show that the Board approved of or was aware that the District was paying these employees for time not spent working.