by Jack Minor –
Former Greeley/Evans District 6 school board member Brett Reese says a recent story by a Denver television station was a perfect example of the type of fiscal mismanagement he tried to fight while serving on the board.
In a May 3 article “Education Administrators Live Large at the Broadmoor,” CBS 4 Denver reported on the excessive amount of money spent by school district officials at December’s annual Colorado Association of School Boards (CASB) convention at the five-star Broadmoor hotel in Colorado Springs.
The event is attended not just by board members, but by superintendents and staff as well. The CBS 4 report noted about some of the excessive costs billed to taxpayers.
“One staff member charged $30 for a room service hamburger. Another charged $48.19 for a room service delivery of a plate of chicken and a glass of milk. Still another staff member submitted a room service bill for a single $30 mahi sandwich.”
CASB also fed 19 staff members lunch with the bill totaling $1,217.69 or $64 per person and a few days later a breakfast meeting for 22 staff members cost another $1,439.54 which came to over $65 per person.
CASB president Ken Delay responded to the costs by simply saying “That is the going rate at the Broadmoor.”
The report also noted that CASB also permits spouses and children to attend and the organization picks up the tab.
He defended the costs saying “It’s a decision I’ve made that that’s a fair additional compensation piece because of the extra time, work and effort to put on a great conference for our members.”
While the CBS 4 report on the excesses being committed by local school boards at a time of budget cutbacks and pleas for more tax increases is just now coming out, the Gazette broke the story several months back.
In a Dec. 6 article, prior to the convention, the Gazette noted that the cost for board members to attend was $150 per night and between dues and reimbursements for the convention the district spent over $21,000 to CASB for four board members and Superintendent Ranelle Lang with her $300,000 per year salary to attend the four day convention.
CASB is a lobbying organization that often advocates for increased government spending on education. CASB says it “advocates the interests of local boards of education to groups both within and outside the education community.” The group also states it provides structures for school board members to unite in promoting the interests and welfare of Colorado School Districts.
The Gazette noted that some of the sessions offered were intended to instruct board members on how to lobby for increased tax revenue.
Some of this year’s sessions were titled “The Game has Changed: What will it take to pass a bond and mill levy override in 2012?” “Changing the Constitution and other trivial matters” and “Unstuck and Maximizing Diversity.”
The convention appears to be a money maker for the lobbyist group, in 2011 it made over $103,000 in profit from the event.
Brett Reese, a former member of the school board who resigned earlier this year, said the information covered in the Gazette and then months later by CBS 4 are exactly the types of excesses he constantly tried to deal with as a board member.
“During my time on the board I brought this up every year and every year the other board members dismissed it,” Reese said. “This is just one example of how much wasteful spending there really is hidden within the school budget.”
Reese went on to note that whenever the issue was brought up he hit a wall of silence from local media outlets over the issue.
“I wrote columns to the Greeley Tribune over this issue multiple times and they not only refused to print them, they never even reported on the Broadmoor issue. However, they had no problem advocating for a tax increase to bring in more money to the district,” he said. “Expenditures like this are why residents are leery of giving this district any more money. Yet you watch, this summer they are going to say they need more money for school renovations. They need to
get their fiscal house in order first.”
While the Tribune does cover a significant amount of events in the district such as graduation ceremonies, student accomplishments and general stories on the budget it does not appear to investigate and report on questionable financial expenditures such as the Broadmoor.
Despite the Gazette’s report on the district spending over $21,000 for CASB and the convention, to this day the Tribune has apparently shown no interest in the subject.
The Gazette was also the only local news agency to report how one of the first orders of business for the new board following last year’s elections was to award a $137,000 contract to SlaterPaull Architects to conduct a facility master plan of all schools in the Greeley/Evans school district.
As part of the contract, SlaterPaull would help the district in the preparation of a Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) grant. The BEST grant is a program that provides partial funding to local communities for school construction and renovation.
Adele Wilson, an architect with SlaterPaull is also on the state board that ultimately approves the BEST grant.
Reese said while the Broadmoor issue is bad enough, awarding the contract to SlaterPaull was another example of how the district plays fast and loose with the public’s money.
“SlaterPaull has a vested interest in seeing the price tag for the project go as high as possible, and they have an employee who is on the board that approves the grant come and make the sales pitch to the district,” Reese said. “I predict that based on their recommendations the district will be going to the public later this year pushing for a bond issue or mill levy override, and then SlaterPaull will probably be allowed to bid on the project their employee helped get state funding for. If that is not a conflict of interest I don’t know what is.”
The CBS 4 report also noted the excessive amount spent by districts during their winter retreat in February at the Brown Palace, which boasts it has hosted famous dignitaries such as kings, presidents and rock stars.
Delay claimed the sole reason for choosing this location was its proximity to the state capitol.
However, CBS 4 noted there were other hotels closer to the capitol and at cheaper rates.
“For February 2013, the Brown Palace, 1/3 of a mile from the Capitol, lists rates of $179 per night. A downtown Sheraton hotel, even closer to the Capitol, offers rates of $115 per night, the Warwick Hotel, also a third of a mile from the Capitol, has rooms for $109 per night.”
The Gazette also noted this several months ago. For the December article we contacted the Brown Palace and were also told the $179 rate, however the discounted rate for CASB members was slightly lower at $156 per night. The Brown Palace says they offer personal butlers “dedicated to your every whim and desire during your stay at the Palace.”
Reese says while he is glad the major media is finally waking up to excessive and wasteful spending by the school district he wonders what took them so long.
“For over two years I tried to get people to see how the board showed no interest in curbing wasteful spending and my warnings fell on deaf ears. Now that I’ve resigned the Denver media seem to have discovered what I have been saying all along,” he lamented. “My only question is what took them so long and why doesn’t the Tribune care about this issue?”