GPS Fraud, Waste & Abuse Report #7: Illegal Payments and Tax Evasion

As every forensic accountant knows, reimbursements to employees for expenses incurred in performing their duties is ripe for fraud, waste and abuse, particularly in government entities. In GPS, it appears to have become an art form: recharacterizing expense reimbursements as a cover for paying illegal expenses from the public purse. Let’s explore some obvious GPS financial shenanigans like *consulting* that isn’t really consulting; overpaying consulting invoices to boost payments to privileged persons; forgiving a contractual obligation to pay *liquidated damages* for breaking an employment contract; paying an allowance (taxable income) and also *reimbursing* expenses incurred for the same purpose; and finally, *reimbursing* future expenses. However you look at it, GPS plays fast and loose in hocus-pocus transactions that create a financial windfall for selected employees. You won’t be surprised to see that GPS superintendent Christina Kishimoto’s name is linked to those transactions. 

It appears that GPS recharacterized a “consulting” payment because travel reimbursement was prohibited when Christina Kishimoto interviewed an out-of-state applicant for a vacant position. After Christina Kishimoto’s top choices for two leadership positions in GPS were rejected by the Governing Board on May 27, 2014, Mark Gabrylczyk’s name appeared on Vouchers 5040-5062, Sep-Oct 2014, for “Consulting Expenses” in the amount of $750.00. Superintendent Mark Gabrylczyk had been fired resigned in June 2015 from his position in Idaho; media reports showed he was looking for positions in districts around the country during the summer and fall months.

The subject of payment of travel expenses for candidates had been addressed by the Governing Board. During the superintendent search leading to Kishimoto being hired earlier in 2014, the firm conducting the search paid those expenses for all candidates who interviewed with the GPS Governing Board. Payments in amounts shown on the contract of the firm Ray and Associates appeared on GPS vouchers; travel expenses for candidates did not appear. The Arizona Attorney General public service orientation guidance is instructive: “State officials recruiting others to State service should know that the Legislature has forbidden expending any appropriations for transportation or other travel expenses, for moving expenses, or for bringing any person who is not an Arizona resident to interview for prospective employment unless such monies are appropriated for such specific purposes. A.R.S. § 35-196.01(A).” Appropriations require a vote of the governing board in a public meeting … BEFORE the funds are spent.

Kishimoto’s recharacterization of this payment to Mark Gabrylczyk as “consulting expenses” indicates a purposeful fraudulent scheme that most likely was concealed from the board. Apparently, Kishimoto charged expenses for hiring a consultant without revealing that she had interviewed an out of state applicant who certainly did not have a sterling work history (which a Google search would have revealed immediately in great detail). Of course, there was no way of assuring the Governing Board that the benefits to be realized from payment for a candidate’s transportation or other travel expenses substantially and demonstrably exceeded the costs GPS incurred (a consideration required because of the Gifts of Public Funds clause in the Arizona Constitution) when it was absolutely prohibited to pay those costs in the first place. Sounds like a repetition of how the GPS governing board did not approve GPS employee travel, doesn’t it?

In the case of former Interim Superintendent Jim Rice, the amount of the invoice and the amount of the check he was issued for *consulting services* he provided after his employment contract ended were vastly different. Kishimoto’s administrative assistant performed the only oversight noted in the public records GPS produced about this matter, including records where Rice invoiced $1,562.50 but was paid $5,687.50. GPS also produced a consolidated report of payments to vendors for 2013-2015; Rice had received $6,198.10. The difference between the check issued to Rice and the amount shown on the consolidated report is $510.60.

Oh, lookie here: Jim Rice also was “reimbursed” for $255.30 for traveling between his office and his home, an amount that should have been reported on an IRS Form 1099 for 2014 in addition to an IRS Form W-2 for Rice’s GPS employment. Reimbursement for that particular travel violates state and federal laws. And gee whillikers, if you double pay for that *travel,* the amount is exactly $510.60, just like the discrepancy that appeared on the consolidated vendor payment report! What a coincidence!!

The public records GPS produced in response to requests for payment information were incomplete, but nonetheless were filled with inconsistencies indicating fraud. In November 2016, the GPS Administrator newsletter acknowledged GPS had been misclassifying independent contractors. The belated attempt to clean up the mess doesn’t excuse the deliberate misuse of authority and public funds, let alone the fraudulent schemes to enrich select “consultants” and GPS employees.

When GPS instituted *hostage fees* in employment contracts, Christina Kishimoto was desperate to keep employees from jumping ship in the middle of the year. Later, we learned that although the contracts specified that the board could forgive the hostage fees upon individual consideration of departing employees, Christina Kishimoto and her minions took over that job and made their own decisions about who paid the hostage fee and who did not. Perhaps they were unaware that the IRS considers a debt that is forgiven as income to the recipient. Yep, propelled by arrogance and ignorance, Christina Kishimoto waded into yet another pit of quicksand in employment law. New board members, she’s trying to pull you in, too!

According to the IRS, if a debt is canceled, forgiven or discharged, you must include the canceled amount in your gross income, and pay taxes on that “income.” Do you think GPS filed required IRS Forms 1099-C when hostage fees were forgiven? Certainly, when Westie requested IRS forms as public records from GPS, no IRS Forms 1099-C were produced. Like so many of the boneheaded maneuvers GPS financial folks pulled in recent years, this stunt could backfire spectacularly on former GPS employees who did not report that additional income. GPS could be on the hook for back taxes as well for penalties and interest for screwing up so many basic payroll functions in the past several years. Let’s hope the IRS doesn’t go after those employees who were not aware they were receiving taxable income due to GPS duplicity.

In terms of Kishimoto’s total compensation, it appears that allowances (taxable income) and reimbursements of accountable plan expenses are duplicative. It’s pretty much impossible to determine which of Kishimoto’s fringe benefits over and above her base salary are paid as allowances as opposed to reimbursements; that’s by design, as are many of the GPS shenanigans. Some of the payments shown in vouchers appear to be reimbursements for expenses that are itemized in allowances described in Kishimoto’s contract. That could allow Kishimoto to collect the allowance as part of her salary and also collect reimbursements of expenses that should have been covered by the allowance.

One such allowance appears to be prohibited by Arizona statute, as discussed in an Attorney General Opinion. That allowance is described in Kishimoto’s employment contract as an annual “Civic Responsibility Expense” payment of $3,000.00, paragraph 2I. There should be no question that such payments violate the Gift Clause and Arizona law, but the allowance is in Kishimoto’s contract and GPS also pays expenses for civic activities, as shown by vouchers.

Kishimoto’s self-serving expenditures of public funds, as well as her reimbursements for expenditures that violate state law are prohibited. From Arizona’s Attorney General:

The Legislature has not authorized school districts to pay dues for district employees and board members to join private civic organizations… The only mention of membership dues in the statutes governing schools is the authorization for districts to pay dues “for membership in an association of school districts within this state.”  A.R.S. § 15-342(8).

Although not expressly authorized by statute, dues for organizations that directly concern education or aspects of managing a public school district may be justified to the extent they enhance the district’s ability to fulfill its statutory responsibilities.  However, the connection  between  membership dues for private civic organizations with a more general purpose (such as the Chamber of Commerce, Kiwanis, and Rotary Clubs you identified in your opinion request) and a district’s statutory responsibilities for educating children is too attenuated to conclude the Legislature impliedly authorized those expenditures. Thus, there is no express or implied statutory authority for school districts to pay for dues to private civic organizations.

It appears Kishimoto also submitted for reimbursement of future expenses. “This will be used for Dr. Kishimoto’s expenses per the superintendent’s contract” appears on vouchers from at least September 2015 through the present. It sure looks like someone is drawing down the amount specified as an allowance in Christina Kishimoto’s contract; what do you think the chances are that she collects the allowance AND files for reimbursements? Do you think there’s any chance Christina Kishimoto’s reported taxable income includes that allowance? You never know with the way GPS ping-pongs salaries and reimbursements between the Talent Office and the Business Office. What a deal!

The Fine Print: Westie’s Fraud, Waste & Abuse Reports chronicle deliberate misuse of authority and public funds, abuse of authority, gifts of public funds and intentional violations of Arizona statutes and administrative rules by Gilbert Public Schools top-level administrators at the behest of superintendent Christina Kishimoto. Word of warning to those who might consider the business-as-usual tricks employed by GPS admins in the past: it won’t help to lose files, forge signatures or *create documentation* after the fact. Everything in the FW&A Reports has already been reported to state and federal elected officials and enforcement agencies.

GPS Fraud, Waste & Abuse Report #6: Consultant Fraud

Superintendent Christina M. Kishimoto, Ed.D.Gilbert Public Schools has hired a lot of *consultants* since Christina Kishimoto has been superintendent. This FW&A Report examines the hinkiness of GPS consultant contracts against the indisputable requirements of Arizona state laws and the Procurement Code, as widely disseminated by The Arizona Auditor General. In other words, Christina Kishimoto and her enablers either knew or should have known better. Then there’s the IRS, which certainly is not pleased with employers who try to evade federal tax laws by recharacterizing payments to *consultants.* The public is being fleeced. Elected officials allowed these conditions to manifest, multiply and mutate into a flagrant scheme of self-enrichment. 

The GPS Governing Board’s disinclination to oversee the superintendent’s financial management of district funds back in 2014 furthered this fraudulent scheme of hiring *consultants.* GPS didn’t even go through the motions of procurement regulations for work purportedly done by consultants. Kishimoto has paid a number of consultants without having contracts, statements of work or other documentation to verify and justify payments for work done by these consultants. As long as a name appeared on the vouchers, GPS paid the tab and sometimes issued IRS Forms 1099.

It appears that Kishimoto hired consultants to do the jobs of regular employees to circumvent the bureaucratic burden of “real” employment. In some cases, this allowed Kishimoto to report to the Governing Board that key positions were unfilled, and therefore administrative costs were low, although the work was getting done. The IRS has issued clear guidance about employing independent contractors, whether they’re called consultants or another name, but GPS seems to flout all the rules.

A big red flag for the IRS is when employers pay consultants on a regular basis, such as bi-weekly or monthly, instead of when a consulting project is completed. Another is paying departing employees as consultants shortly after they leave; those payments have the appearance of being improper parting gifts or rewards. GPS hits all those marks, and more, in what appears to be a pattern and practice of funneling public money to selected recipients, including the superintendent herself, which has the appearance of a prohibited act under A.R.S. §38-504. Such contracts should be voided as described in A.R.S. §38-506, and also be subject to the penalties of A.R.S. §38-510.

According to documents produced by GPS in response to public records requests for consulting contracts, they never existed. GPS produced only a few invoices in response to public records requests. There were no contracts describing duties or rates of payment for consultants, nor any documentation describing the scope of work or any deliverables associated with consultants’ work. In fact, on August 1, 2014 at 8:23 AM, GPS responded to Westie’s email inquiry: “Follow up: Jeff Gadd is classified as a vendor, no contract. Carole Bartholomeaux is classified as a vendor, no contract.”

Jeff Gadd’s consulting invoices consist of dates and numbers of hours, with nothing more to indicate what was the “financial consulting” he did for GPS during selected periods from May through July 2014. It’s significant that GPS did not produce a purchase order along with Gadd’s invoices and copies of checks. Gadd’s consulting payments were not included in the consolidated report of payments to vendors for 2013-2015 that GPS produced, but GPS issued checks to him in the amounts of $6,937.50 on May 21, 2014; $9,250.00 on June 16, 2014; and $4,750.00 on July 8, 2014 for a total of $20,937.50. To all appearances, Gadd was a GPS employee, not a consultant. Hmmmm … GPS had a highly-paid Assistant Superintendent for Business Services, Clyde Dangerfield, Esquire, at the same time they were paying Jeff Gadd to *consult* about finances.

Jeff Gadd transferred from being a vendor, or consultant, depending on which GPS report you use, to a lucrative six-figure executive job as the GPS Chief Financial Officer for a one year term on September 2, 2014The GPS Governing Board approved his employment, as noted in the minutes of the August 26, 2014 board meeting. As Chief Financial Officer, Jeff Gadd’s salary was $102,320.00 plus fringe benefits available to other administrative employees, including 18.66 vacation days, a $3,000.00 automobile allowance, health insurance in the amount of $7,091.00 and an annual physical examination reimbursement of $800.00, with an additional 1% annual salary contribution in a tax sheltered annuity. Gadd also was paid by GPS according to the February 2016 vouchers for “financial consulting” at $125.00 per hour, totaling $1,281.25.

In the case of Carole Bartholomeaux, there were several invoices and receiving reports that indicate she performed “public relations” consulting and other services, billed in what appears to be increments of 20 hours, over the period of July and August 2014. To all appearances, Barthololmeaux was a GPS employee, not a consultant. Invoices were paid for $800.00 on July 16, 2014; $4,480.00 on July 30, 2014; $4,480.00 on August 5, 2014; and $6,720.00 (consolidated payment) on August 15, 2014 for a total of $16,480.00. The purchase order was for $20,000.00. A GPS consolidated report of payments to vendors for 2013-2015 showed prior year payments to Bartholomeaux for $26,880.00 and $16,480.00 for 2014. Of particular concern is the note on Barthololmeaux’s invoice for August 19, 2014 that her services including “Researching information for GEF Gala event.” We’ll circle back to that in a future FW&A post.

Another GPS employee received payment for finance consulting after she left the district in 2015. Payments to Crystal Korpan, former GPS Coordinator of Budget and Procurement, were listed in GPS vouchers. Those payments also appeared in the consolidated report of payments to vendors in the amounts of $720.00 on May 1, 2015; $600.00 on May 19, 2015; and $240.00 on June 23, 2015 for a total of $1,560.00. A public policy question: did Korpan collect her salary from the Queen Creek School District, where she is now Chief Financial Officer, for the same time that she collected payments from GPS as a consultant?

Provisions of A.R.S.§35-211 should be applicable in this situation, requiring public employees return any unauthorized payments plus legal interest:

A.R.S.§35-211 When any person who is obligated to approve, audit, allow or pay claims or demands upon the state, approves, audits, allows or pays, or consents to, or connives at, approving, auditing, allowing or paying a claim or demand against the state not authorized by law, such person, and the person in whose favor the claim or demand was made, shall be liable for any funds procured in such manner, plus twenty per cent of such amount and legal interest upon the amount paid from date of payment.

Bottom line: GPS payments to “consultants” included serious anomalies and appear to be designed to recharacterize salaries to evade employment taxes. This should require that any contract be voided even if it were fair; GPS should recover payments whether or not there was actual fraud or dishonesty, because public officers and employees have accrued benefits far beyond what would normally accrue to them as part of their official duties.

The Fine Print: Westie’s Fraud, Waste & Abuse Reports chronicle deliberate misuse of authority and public funds, abuse of authority, gifts of public funds and intentional violations of Arizona statutes and administrative rules by Gilbert Public Schools top-level administrators at the behest of superintendent Christina Kishimoto. These  reports come directly from public records, many of which GPS slow-walked and stonewalled in attempts to keep perfidies hidden. Public trust can be restored only through an impartial forensic audit by someone who doesn’t have a stake in these matters.

GPS Fraud, Waste & Abuse Report #5: Accountability for Fraudulent Schemes

Fraud, Waste & Abuse in Gilbert Public SchoolsFor the past three years, Christina Kishimoto’s GPS superintendency has been marked by willful ignorance and intentional blindness in terms of oversight. One reason Westie is presenting this series of Fraud, Waste & Abuse reports is so the public will know what historically has been hidden from view in Gilbert Public Schools. Another reason is that these posts are transmitted to individual GPS board members, making a public record, which increases the difficulty for GPS top-level administrators to collude in concocting a Get Out of Jail Free card. It’s time to bring information into the sunlight for public scrutiny, and to hold perpetrators of fraudulent schemes accountable. 

Members of the GPS governing board will be making severe cuts to GPS educational programs in coming months. Before making a public spectacle of hypocrisy with budget cuts, perhaps they will decide to examine and end wasteful expenditures by a superintendent who seems to flout laws just because she can. Actually, the two remaining members of the former Rubber Stamp board will most likely be searching for some CYA assistance, since they’re in so deep, as these FW&A reports show.

There has been no functional process for reporting FW&A internally. The GPS governing board refused to accept complaints about the superintendent during Lily Tram’s tenure as president of the board. When voices were heard, GPS typically assigned a pet attorney paid by The Trust to get rid of the problem via a CYA report cloaked in attorney-client privilege. How many times during Christina Kishimoto’s tenure has the “Internal Auditor” position been eliminated? [rhetorical question] In her January 27, 2017 Board Brief, Christina Kishimoto made short shrift of a short-term incumbent by promoting Patricia Donohue to a director position in Business Services. Note that Patricia Donohue is a Certified Public Accountant; that means she has a CPA license to protect, so it made perfect sense that Christina Kishimoto wanted the Internal Auditor position vacant again!

There might be some light at the end of the Fraud, Waste & Abuse tunnel: in the GPS Uniform System of Financial Records Compliance Questionnaire For Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 2015, there is this nugget about FW&A allegations:

For Governing Board/Management Procedures question 4, the audit firm should confirm management’s appropriate action to resolve all allegations of theft, fraud, or misuse of district monies or assets by either examining copies of the incident reports or communicating with the agency involved in investigating the allegation.

*  If the audit firm determines that district management was aware of allegations but did not appropriately resolve them in a timely manner (e.g., no action was taken, actions were not documented, actions were delayed, inadequate, or inappropriate to the circumstances), the audit firm should answer the question “No.” This includes instances where an external investigation is underway for allegations, but district management did not request the investigation, was not fully cooperating with the investigators, or was not otherwise attempting to resolve the allegations.

*  If the audit firm determines that district management was not aware of any allegations (based on inquiry, review of Governing Board minutes, search of local media coverage, and results of audit test work), the question should be answered “N/A.”

*  If the audit firm finds evidence of theft, fraud, or misuse of district assets but does not find evidence that district management was aware of the possible theft, fraud, or misuse, the audit firm should appropriately investigate and report the theft, fraud, or misuse to the Office of the Auditor General, but this question would be answered “N/A.”

* A “Yes” answer indicates that the audit firm has determined that the District is in compliance with the USFR on that question and a “No” answer indicates the District does not comply. However, the final determination of compliance on each question, as well as overall compliance with the USFR, is made by the Office of the Auditor General based on the evidence presented in the questionnaire, audit reports, the audit documentation, and any other sources of information available.

That’s the kind of research that sparked Westie’s FW&A Reports, along with a professional lifetime of adhering to the highest standards of conduct in protecting the public trust: careers in the U.S. Air Force. Our top leaders put it bluntly to youngsters: USAF members could be forgiven for almost anything other than messing with Uncle Sam’s money. A favorite admonition, often related to lethargy for paperwork completion: “If it feels like a shortcut, DON’T DO IT.” We had strict enforcement of ethics standards under Inspectors General, which position also exists in every federal agency. They’re independent and powerful.

Westie has long advocated for the GPS governing board to hire their own Inspector General who would answer ONLY to the board. Now that the one-year-only Chief of Staff position is being vacated after three years (another Kishimoto hoodwink), maybe the board will reconsider the suggestion. Or set up a Citizen Audit Committee that answers only to the board. There are many ways to skin this cat, but doing so will require an act of political will on the part of at least three members of the governing board to implement a solution:

Stop School District Fraud: A Simple Solution.  Many school districts still lack necessary and fundamental oversight of their financial operations. School leaders often forego an indispensable resource designed to protect their reputations and reduce the risk that their district’s malfeasance will dominate local media reports and newspaper headlines. The solution is an internal watchdog like an inspector general or internal auditor. Legal bills, compliance with law enforcement investigations, civil recovery actions, even qui tam claims can drain resources and distract district administration and staff from their core function.  Having systems in place designed to identify high-risk areas, ensure effective controls are in place and, if necessary, respond when controls are circumvented, sets the tone that misconduct will not be tolerated and will be swiftly detected and punished.

In these FW&A Reports, we’ll see that GPS is involved up to its eyeballs in many of the examples of fraud listed in a presentation titled, “Fraud: How to Get Your District Free Publicity.” We all know how Christina Kishimoto craves publicity as she quests for her *national reputation.*

Government and public administration is in the top three most victimized industries for fraud.  Regular audits are not designed to detect fraud – they are to render an opinion on the District’s financial statements. Disbursement schemes are the most common; travel and expense reimbursements also are a common target for such fraud.

• Fictitious vendor or invoice schemes
• Consulting invoices
• Mischaracterized expense reimbursements
• Overstated expense reimbursements
• Fictitious expense reimbursements
• Multiple reimbursements
• Lack of cash receipts or inventory records (Catering events)

The Arizona Attorney General made the case for GPS governing board members to discharge their responsibilities to the public that elected them:

School districts are legislative creations, and school boards must exercise authority within the limits established by statute. Tucson Unified Sch. Dist. No. 1 v. Tucson Educ. Ass’n, 155 Ariz. 441, 442-43, 747 P.2d 602, 603-04 (App. 1987). In addition, the Arizona Supreme Court has held that school districts owe trust obligations to the public.

School districts are created by the state for the sole purpose of promoting the education of the youth of the state. All their powers are given them and all the property which they own is held by them in trust for the same purpose, and any contract of any nature which they may enter into, which shows on its face that it is not meant for the educational advancement of the youth of the district but for some other purpose, no matter how worthy in its nature, is ultra vires and void.
Prescott Community Hosp. Comm’n v. Prescott Sch. Dist. No. 1, 57 Ariz. 492, 494, 115 P.2d 160, 161 (1941)

Westie has repeated endlessly regarding Gilbert Public Schools: Follow the Law!

The Fine Print: Westie’s Fraud, Waste & Abuse Reports chronicle deliberate misuse of authority and public funds, abuse of authority, gifts of public funds and intentional violations of Arizona statutes and administrative rules by Gilbert Public Schools top-level administrators at the behest of superintendent Christina Kishimoto. Public trust can be restored only through an impartial forensic audit by someone who doesn’t have a stake in these matters. We suggest a forensic audit include travel and other *reimbursements* to GPS employees, federal funds and grants to schools, and payments to friendly GPS vendors for myriad purposes. There’s fire behind all that smoke!

GPS Fraud, Waste & Abuse Report #4: Sweetheart Promotions and Stealth Raises

This FW&A Report shows what happens when the GPS governing board does not personally review individual employment contracts, as GPS did prior to Christina Kishimoto’s arrival. Board members formerly reviewed and signed each employment contract. With today’s electronic employment contracts, there is no meaningful oversight of who Christina Kishimoto hires or what she pays each employee. Lists prepared by the GPS Talent Office, approved by the governing board each month, do not show the full extent  … like GPS ghost employee Robyn Conrad-Hansen, star of FW&A Report #3. New board members, you’ve already been played.

Games GPS administrators play with electronic employment contracts are done in a manner that usurps the board’s authority to determine the pay of employees under A.R.S. § 15-502A:

The governing board at any time may employ and fix the salaries and benefits of employees necessary for the succeeding year. The contracts of all certificated employees shall be in writing, and all employees shall be employed subject to section 38-481. The governing board may transmit and receive contracts of certificated employees in an electronic format and may accept electronic signatures on those contracts.

There’s a cautionary tale in the story behind an Arizona school district superintendent’s sudden resignation on February 28, 2017.The Tucson school district experienced a turnover in the makeup of the governing board, analogous to what happened in Gilbert Public Schools during the same election. Superintendent H. T. Sanchez lost his rubber stamp board majority and faced questions about his management of Tucson schools that had been swept under the carpet for the past three years. It was reported that the TUSD board was considering a Performance Improvement Plan for their employee. Later reports indicated that the attorneys were discussing a statement of charges against Superintendent H. T. Sanchez:

Sanchez misled the Board as to compensation in contracts, gave pay raises to senior administrators without Board approval, and gave separating employees additional months of health insurance after separation. In June 2014, just before the end of the fiscal year, three administrators received a $10,000 payment, coded as a “bonus.”

The groundwork for Sanchez’s firing had been laid by a TUSD board member who was not part of the former Rubber Stamp Board:

For months, board member Mark Stegeman has been compiling a case against Sanchez, one that could potentially be used to fire him for cause — meaning that he would not be owed the rest of his rich contract. There were reasons to end the relationship with Sanchez. He seems to have lied to the school board when he told them administrators were not getting raises back in 2014, at a time when he was packing $10,000 bonuses into some contracts. And he allowed Prop. 301 money to accumulate in TUSD coffers at a time when teachers could have used the money. Instead, some of those millions were used to balance the district’s accounts.

You’ll find many similarities between the performance shortfalls of H.T. Sanchez and Christina Kishimoto. His base salary had been $240,000 with benefits that brought the total value of his contract to nearly a half a million dollars. His contract was renewed early by his Rubber Stamp Board. He is not an educator, nor is he certified by the State of Arizona. Ditto for Kishimoto. As for holding back money the public expected would be used to increase teacher pay, well, it’s a GPS tradition now.

Connecting the dots to GPS: remember former Executive Director of Technology Steve Smith, the subordinate with whom Christina Kishimoto was involved in an *alleged* improper relationship?  His quasi-board-approved contracts were for “Director of Technology,” but his title was elevated and so was his pay, apparently without board approval. Ditto for former Executive Director of Curriculum, Beth Nickle, who was similarly elevated, according to the same 2015-2016 GPS organizational chart. FWIW, Beth Nickle now occupies a coordinator position in academic services, but she’s leaving the district at the end of her contract this year.

Public records available online confirmed that Steve Smith was hired on June 10, 2014 as Director of Technology. The board approved a reorganization of Technology Services on January 27, 2015; Smith’s position remained Director of Technology. Smith’s online resume at LinkedIn, however, indicates he had been Executive Director of Technology since June 2014 when he was hired as a “cabinet member.” The Governing Board did not approve that cabinet position or that title for Smith, according to minutes of board meetings online.

GPS produced public record copies of the Smith’s contracts for 2014 and 2015. Both contracts show he held the position of Director of Technology. The two contracts indicate a raise. GPS employees were given a 2% raise between 2014 and 2015; Smith’s raise appears to be in that range. Although Smith’s salary was increased for 2015, the number of days he was required to work decreased (237 contract days in 2015 versus 247 work days for 2014). Those extra ten days not worked raise suspicions of fraud: the same pay, plus a raise over the prior year’s salary, in return for fewer days of work could easily have been an under the table raise for Steve Smith, as well as for other GPS administrative employees.

Following revelation of Steve Smith and Christina Kishimoto having an *alleged* inappropriate relationship, Steve Smith’s resignation was formally accepted by the Governing Board on January 26, 2016. Significantly, Smith’s title on the consent agenda reverted back to Director of Technology, not the Executive Director title GPS had been using in reference to him. Steve Smith’s replacement was designated Interim Director of Technology; she suddenly got to go to a conference in Los Angeles with Christina Kishimoto, a trip that had not been approved by the governing board. That makes you wonder if the Los Angeles getaway had been planned for Christina Kishimoto’s inappropriate relationship, but we digress. Hope you had fun, Nan! The announcement for officially filling the technology position was titled Executive Director of Technology; the first responsibility listed was serving on the Superintendent’s Cabinet. Showing how some things never change, the dude who was hired to replace the guy who resigned when his *alleged* inappropriate relationship with his boss became public knowledge in 2016 *might* be called Chief Technology Officer for the 2017-2018 school year. That makes you wonder … no, never mind, being promoted like this is no longer unusual for guys in GPS.

The GPS governing board has the duty to investigate matters involving the Superintendent that come to their attention by any means. One of the complaints about superintendent Christina Kishimoto’s *alleged* inappropriate relationship with her subordinate was made in a public meeting, archived in the video minutes of the January 26, 2016 board meeting and at the link on Westie’s blog (above), for your convenience. But of course, nothing happened except that Silly Jilly Humpherys said she didn’t like *small town* morals. Sheeeeesh. This mess was never about morals, it was always about abuse of power, conflict of interest and the hostile working environment for GPS employees who were not engaged in *alleged* inappropriate relationships with their bosses.

At a minimum, Kishimoto’s alleged inappropriate relationship would be a conflict of interest, especially if her subordinate was indeed promoted and received a salary increase without board knowledge and approval. A subordinate’s promotion and salary increase, as well as any intangible benefits emanating from this *alleged* inappropriate relationship also would have been a misuse of Kishimoto’s authority, among other affronts to public policy, whether it involved Steve Smith’s *promotion* or Robyn Conrad-Hansen’s *ghost* position with GPS. Would it surprise you to know that GPS is STILL protecting the *alleged* recipient of a $10,000.00 raise that *allegedly was not approved by a previous governing board by refusing to produce public records requested long, long ago?

There’s a reason GPS marks public records requests “closed” and ignores requestors who say the file should not be closed because the requested public records have not been provided. Maybe someone on the GPS governing board should be concerned that public records requests go unfilled for a year or more … but that would be asking for *someone* to get their heads out the sand. Sigh. BTW, don’t believe that public records log that’s posted on the GPS website. There’s hinkiness there, too. We’ll explain in a future FW&A report.

The Arizona Agency Handbook, Sect. 8.2.1 states the Arizona Conflict of Interest statutes serve to prevent the financial interests of public officers and employees from conflicting with the “unbiased performance of their public duties because one cannot serve two masters with conflicting interests.’” Maucher v. City of Eloy, 145 Ariz. 335, 338, 701 P.2d 593, 596 (App. 1985). Further: “Government Auditing Standards indicate that abuse involves behavior that is deficient or improper when compared with behavior that a prudent person would consider reasonable and necessary business practice given the facts and circumstances. Abuse also includes misuse of authority or position for personal financial interests or those of an immediate or close family member or business associate.

The question is, will GPS board members seize the initiative and begin to right the wrongs that have proliferated throughout GPS under superintendent Christina Kishimoto? Public trust can be restored only through an impartial forensic audit by someone who doesn’t have a stake in these matters. That means the usual GPS pet lawyers and accountants are not acceptable investigators … their interests lie with whoever signs their checks.

There are more indicators of public corruption concerning Christina Kishimoto’s *sweetheart* gifts of public funds to her nearest and dearest … those will be subjects of future FW&A Reports.

The Fine Print: Westie’s Fraud, Waste & Abuse Reports chronicle deliberate misuse of authority and public funds, abuse of authority, gifts of public funds and intentional violations of Arizona statutes and administrative rules by Gilbert Public Schools top-level administrators at the behest of superintendent Christina Kishimoto. These  reports come directly from public records, many of which GPS slow-walked and stonewalled in attempts to keep perfidies hidden. Everything in the FW&A Reports has already been reported to state and federal elected officials and enforcement agencies.

GPS Fraud, Waste & Abuse Report #3: The $100,000+ Ghost Employee

Dr. Robyn Conrad-Hansen, GPS ghost employeeThe administration of Gilbert Public Schools flagrantly violates public policy, federal law, state laws and its own district policies as a few six-figure income public employees *live large* at taxpayer expense. Today’s Fraud, Waste & Abuse report is about a ghost employee at the highest level of GPS management for 2015-2016, Dr. Robyn Conrad-Hansen. In addition to her salary, which appears to be a Gift of Public Funds prohibited by the Arizona Constitution, Robyn Conrad-Hansen’s travels were extensive and expensive. Today’s report is just the tip of an iceberg that Westie will reveal in upcoming FW&A reports. Man the lifeboats!

Christina Kishimoto’s generosity seems to have no limits when it comes to matters of her inner circle at the GPS White Castle. For instance, in her Board Report dated April 3, 2015, Christina Kishimoto reported that Robyn Conrad-Hansen was leaving her position as principal of Playa del Rey Elementary School and would be on leave: “Dr. Robyn Conrad, is on Smart Schools, and will be on leave to serve as President of the national Principals Association [sic].” It appears Christina Kishimoto’s statement was never true. Instead, Robyn Conrad-Hansen was continuously employed by GPS as a Smart Schools Plus contractor, while another person was hired for her former position as a school principal at Playa del Rey.

Christina Kishimoto undeniably reported to the Governing Board that Conrad-Hansen was on leave as president of NAESP, but it turned out that *someone* created a position for Conrad-Hansen at the GPS district offices. It appears that the Governing Board did not approve this position, yet Conrad-Hansen collected a handsome paycheck for whatever it was that she did as a ghost employee in a position that did not exist, according to GPS organizational charts. This was an abuse of Christina Kishimoto’s authority, a conflict of interest, a violation of the Arizona Constitution, and an abomination against public policy. Whew!

Christina Kishimoto once urged the governing board to *suspend* district policy when it suited her plans; this time, it appears Christina Kishimoto brazenly violated district policies on her own volition. The employee GPS employee handbook for 2014-2015 was in effect for the 2015-2016 school year, which included this policy for administrators who serve in state or national offices, appearing on page 34:

If an administrator is elected to a state or national office or an office in a professional education association, the employee may be granted an unpaid leave for the term of said office. Employees may apply for additional leaves if reelected or elected to an additional office. Administrators returning from such leave shall return to their same or equivalent position as determined by the District.

It appears Kishimoto willfully and knowingly took action to hire Robyn Conrad-Hansen for a term of employment and at a compensation Kishimoto was not authorized to approve,  usurping the board’s authority to determine the pay of employees under A.R.S. § 15-502A. This appears to have been done with the intent to benefit Robyn Conrad-Hansen, the recipient of an illegitimate contract, and it appears that Christina Kishimoto did so knowingly and dishonestly for a wrongful purpose. This scheme could succeed only with collusion and collaboration of other top-level administrators in GPS … the Chief Talent Officer and the Chief Financial Officer immediately come to mind, but others also are implicated.

Robyn Conrad-Hansen moved to a position identified as “District” and “District/NAESP” in various Voucher Reports. GPS paid expenses of membership in the national organization of which Robyn Conrad-Hansen was president. That alone violates A.R.S. 15-342(8) Discretionary powers: “Annually budget and expend funds for membership in an association of school districts within this state.” In Vouchers 5254-5285, June 2015, Robyn Conrad-Hansen was paid $8,123.94 as principal of Playa del Rey and membership dues for Arizona School Administrators and National Association of Elementary School Principals were paid in the amount of $530.00.

In the February 2016 Voucher Report, there is this entry: “Robin Hansen (Conrad) – District – NAESP  $7,370.00.” It’s a slick trick, but GPS employs many means to defeat public records inquiries, such as using different names for one and the same employee. Robyn Conrad-Hansen, and her many alternative names, was paid for the 2015-2016 school year as a Smart Schools Plus contractor. Don’t forget that Smart Schools Plus was paid a nifty fee to put retired former GPS employees back on the Gravy Train.

As a favored GPS employee, Conrad-Hansen traveled in and out of state, always without board approval as required by Arizona statute. For 2015-2016, the NAESP annual conference was held in Long Beach, California shortly before Arizona School Administrators met in Tucson; Conrad-Hansen’s ASA membership and conference attendance were paid by GPS. The two organizations, NAESP and ASA, appear to have a close relationship; the ASA website congratulates Conrad-Hansen for her presidency of NAESP. Robyn Conrad-Hansen was reimbursed $1,628.95, as shown on Vouchers 5254-5285, June 2015: $216.85 for “Reimbursement ASA Conference Tucson” and $1,412.10 for “Reimbursement of flights, meals, parking.”

It appears there was some co-mingling of Robyn Conrad-Hansen’s expenses for the conferences in Long Beach and Tucson, which perhaps could have totaled $1,412.10, but airfare from Phoenix to Tucson would not.  Robyn Conrad-Hansen’s reimbursement is particularly glaring when compared to reimbursements to Christina Kishimoto ($247.42 Vouchers 5254-5285, June 2015) and Steve Smith ($264.14 for mileage, meals and hotel, Vouchers for July-August 2015). Other GPS employees who attended the Tucson conference were reimbursed amounts similar to what Kishimoto and Smith received, except for Campo Verde principal Mike De La Torre, who was reimbursed $957.17 for “Per diem travel expenses for ASA.”

Another reimbursement to Robyn Conrad in the amount of $3,219.00 looks strange, as shown on the 2015 Consolidated Vouchers that GPS provided to Westie: “And rental van for the Teach to Lead* ($150); Reimbursement ASA Conference Tucson, AZ* ($217); Reimbursement of flights, meals, parking* ($2,852).” There’s an annotation in the same spreadsheet showing a $516.00 reimbursement to Robyn Conrad for “ASA Fall Principals” and a $23.00 reimbursement for “travel expenses.”

Notice that Robyn Conrad-Hansen was reimbursed for her travels; like her pal Christina Kishimoto, she made her travel arrangements herself rather than use the GPS vendor, Sinclair Travel. Hmmmm. Whenever the double-MBA GPS board clerk looks at GPS vouchers, remember that matching expenditures to the exact vouchers approved by the board at a monthly business meeting will be necessary, even though the *consolidated vouchers* so readily produced by GPS sycophants might seem to be easier to review. A real auditor knows that, BTW. A real auditor will triple-scrutinize travel arrangements that were made personally, bypassing the district’s vendor. There’s a reason GPS has left the Internal Auditor position vacant for so long… starting back when former Assistant Superintendent Clyde Dangerfield did not like the Internal Auditor’s advice about the infamous contract he signed with CrossPointe. Sheeeeesh.

None of this GPS employee travel was approved by the board as required by A.R.S 15-342(5); see Fraud, Waste & Abuse Report #1 and Fraud, Waste & Abuse Report #2.

The Fine Print: Westie’s Fraud, Waste & Abuse Reports chronicle deliberate misuse of authority and public funds, abuse of authority, gifts of public funds and intentional violations of Arizona statutes and administrative rules by Gilbert Public Schools top-level administrators at the behest of superintendent Christina Kishimoto. These  reports come directly from public records, many of which GPS slow-walked and stonewalled in attempts to keep perfidies hidden. Everything in the FW&A Reports has already been reported to state and federal elected officials and enforcement agencies.

GPS Fraud, Waste & Abuse Report #2: Red Flags of Fraud in Employee Travel

Employee travel in Gilbert Public Schools appears to be a massive six figure expenditure every year. We say “appears to be,” because tracking all the GPS employee travel is pretty much impossible … by design. The biggest clue that this mismanagement and abuse of public funds is intentional is that other public school districts in Arizona formally approve all employee travel in public meetings. Other districts also predict and then track all expenditures for individual trips, as well as annual costs for all travel. GPS hides those expenses in a multitude of line items on the monthly GPS Voucher Reports. 

The GPS governing board historically has been remarkably incurious about massive expenditures of public money for travel by GPS employees. This is an indicator of potential fraud on its own, because the board president for several different years was Lily Tram, the Director of Financial Services at Arizona State University, who deals with both accounts payable and travel for an even larger public entity.

Lily Tram also was on the board while this was happening in GPS:

GPS budgeted $28,782.59, but spent $186,911 for conferences and training FOR ADMINISTRATORS … Additional costs for ADMINISTRATORS to attend the trainings and conferences listed above [in the linked blog post]: GPS budgeted $30,500 but spent $161,643.

Tram originally boasted of her financial expertise when she ran for election to the board in 2008 and most recently in her official 2016 campaign statement:

My work experience includes over 27 years in accounting and budgeting in higher education. This background gives me an ability to weigh fiscal responsibility and budgetary constraints, alongside the needs of our students and their education.

Tram resisted oversight of the GPS administration, especially in regard to finances. That’s diametrically opposed to Tram’s work at ASU. As board clerk, Jill Humpherys played a key role in blocking inquiries about GPS expenditures; board member Charles Santa Cruz apparently couldn’t be bothered to even look at questionable spending.That creates an environment in which fraudulent schemes can proliferate.

Red flags of fraud fly high on travel by GPS employees because there is a question as to whether the GPS Governing Board has the authority to pay for membership in any national organization, the hosts of these boondoggles in exotic resort locations. Relevant Arizona state law addresses only paying for membership (not including attending conferences) in state-wide organizations. See AZ AG Opinion I00-022: “The only mention of membership dues in the statutes governing schools is the authorization for districts to pay dues “for membership in an association of school districts within this state.”  A.R.S. § 15-342(8).” In the travel noted below, GPS paid for memberships of several employees in national organizations in addition to paying for expenses of the their travel to network.

Keyboard: Maybe someone can explain why *networking* is a valid reason to pay thousands upon thousands of dollars for GPS employee travel. Maybe the board should meet behind closed doors to discuss this matter.
Westie: Oh, I get it, you mean another executive session to discuss the superintendent’s performance!

Worse, Kishimoto’s improper travel payments and reimbursements appear fraudulent. Here’s how one category of travel morphed into what appears to be a scam. When Kishimoto first became superintendent, she reported to the governing board on July 11, 2014 that the Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents, ALAS, was paying her hotel and flight expenses because she was an ALAS board member. Kishimoto alluded to some private agreement with GPS board members reached during her “selection process” as GPS superintendent. Christina Kishimoto remained on the ALAS board, in fact she was president the next year, through 2016. You would think ALAS would cover her travel expenses during that time. You would be wrong. GPS paid through the nose.

Kishimoto reported another trip to the GPS governing board on September 19, 2014, making no mention of who would pay her expenses for the ALAS event. Public records show that GPS reimbursed Kishimoto for this conference; apparently with a GPS issued check to Kishimoto for $1,576.92.

Vouchers 5063-5078, paid through November 6, 2014, show a $2,060.92 travel reimbursement to Christina Kishimoto. Westie filed a public records request for the reimbursement records. Lo and behold, GPS did not produce records for a $545.40 blanket purchase order within the request, although other documentation for the voucher line item was produced.

This reimbursement raises a red flag of fraud on its own: the same airline expense and an almost the same hotel expense had been reimbursed to Kishimoto on the previous voucher, three weeks earlier, with no indication of the purpose for the travel. It is significant that Kishimoto made her own travel arrangements and submitted for reimbursements rather than use the district’s contracted travel agency. GPS paid different amounts directly to Kishimoto on a different voucher report: $962.20 for airline tickets and $524.70 for hotel expenses (Vouchers 5040-5062-Sep-Oct 2014, paid through October 16, 2014). 

Kishimoto informed the GPS Governing Board on October 9, 2015 that she would be attending an ALAS conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico in October 2015. Kishimoto pointedly did not request the board’s approval. It would have been futile to request board approval in accordance with A.R.S §15-342(5), because there was no board meeting scheduled between Kishimoto’s board brief and the dates of her travel, even though this travel had been arranged and expensed to the district months earlier, in July or August 2015.

Following the ALAS conference, Kishimoto reported to the board on October 23, 2015 that she had taken a “team” along with her to the ALAS conference. Some of the travel expenditures for GPS employees to the October 2015 ALAS conference were spread out over several months’ worth of vouchers. Some expenses don’t give an employee name.

Kishimoto again made her own arrangements rather than use the travel agency that has a vendor contract with the district. As a result, Kishimoto’s self-purchased airline tickets ($522.00) were far more expensive than Steve Smith’s airline tickets ($236.01) that were procured through the GPS travel agency on the October 2015 vouchers. Kishimoto posted on her Twitter account that GPS Principal Sam Valles presented at the conference, but Westie hasn’t found expenditures or reimbursements reported for Sam Valles for the October 2015 ALAS conference.

Fees and expenses for the ALAS conference varied greatly. GPS paid conference fees for Steve Smith ($450.00), who was Executive Director of Technology at the time, and significantly more for GPS Principal Mike De La Torre ($595.00). Airline tickets for Mike De La Torre were purchased through the district’s vendor, Sinclair Travel. GPS also paid for Christina Kishimoto’s registration fee ($450.00) as well as her “dues and fees” ($350.00) for membership in the national organization.

Key in on the name Steve Smith, aka Charles Stevin Smith: did you notice that in months just after Christina Kishimoto’s divorce became final, she was traveling with the same subordinate with whom she had been reported to have an *alleged* inappropriate relationship? As vouchers show, Steve Smith’s attendance at the ALAS conference was planned early. Christina Kishimoto’s attendance was arranged at the same time, in the July-August 2015 timeframe. A motive for spreading expense payments and reimbursements over several months would have the effect of concealing Christina Kishimoto’s and Steve Smith’s alleged inappropriate relationship and travel together after Christina Kishimoto’s divorce in July 2015.

Steve Smith also traveled to a Arizona Association of School Business Officials event in Tucson at the same time of Kishimoto’s travels, although Steve Smith was not in a school business position in GPS.  Steve Smith was reimbursed for travel expenses to the AASBO Conference Tucson, AZ  July 17-18, 2015 (July-August 2015 Vouchers). Steve Smith’s mileage, meals and hotel amounted to $264.14. Christina Kishimoto’s expenses were $247.42 (Vouchers 5254-5285,  June 2015).

None of this travel was approved by the GPS governing board in accordance with A.R.S 15-342(5)GPS didn’t have an internal auditor at the time; the board clerk was charged with reviewing expenditures for the board. With reimbursements to various GPS employees spread out over several months, and no board approval before those employees attended the conference, oversight was all but impossible.

Here’s an example of how a school district governing board in Arizona SHOULD go about authorizing out of state travel: 

Out of state travel – Cartwright School District April 2015 – Approval of Out of State Travel for Superintendent and Governing Board to attend the National Association of Latino Elected Officials 32nd Annual Conference in Las Vegas, NV, June 17-19, 2015 (see page 6, item #7)

It appears that Lily Tram provided cover for any suspected fraudulent activities by refusing to accept complaints about the superintendent unless a citizen filed a Notice of Claim against the district. GPS doesn’t have an Inspector General, or even a conduit for whistle blower complaints. But Arizona State University does!

The Fine Print: Westie’s Fraud, Waste & Abuse Reports chronicle deliberate misuse of authority and public funds, abuse of authority, gifts of public funds and intentional violations of Arizona statutes and administrative rules by Gilbert Public Schools top-level administrators at the behest of superintendent Christina Kishimoto. Word of warning to those who might consider the business-as-usual tricks employed by GPS admins in the past: it won’t help to lose files, forge signatures or *create documentation* after the fact. Everything in the FW&A Reports has already been reported to state and federal elected officials and enforcement agencies.

GPS Fraud, Waste & Abuse Report #1: Travel Violates State Law

Fraud, Waste & Abuse in Gilbert Public SchoolsWestie’s Fraud, Waste & Abuse Reports chronicle deliberate misuse of authority and public funds, abuse of authority, gifts of public funds and intentional violations of Arizona statutes and administrative rules by Gilbert Public Schools top-level administrators at the behest of superintendent Christina Kishimoto. Word of warning to those who might consider the business-as-usual tricks employed by GPS admins in the past: it won’t help to lose files, forge signatures or *create documentation* after the fact. Everything in these FW&A Reports has already been reported to state and federal elected officials and enforcement agencies. 

Intentional violations of state law result in unapproved travel, fraudulent reimbursements to GPS employees. Since she became Superintendent in July 2014, Christina Kishimoto and selected GPS employees have routinely traveled without complying with Arizona law. There is no question about what approval level Arizona law requires: authorizing travel by school district employees is discretionary power reserved to the Governing Board and can be approved only by an official vote, which must occur in a public meeting:

A.R.S 15-342 Discretionary Powers.
The governing board may:
5. Permit a superintendent or principal or representatives of the superintendent or principal to travel for a school purpose, as determined by a majority vote of the board. [emphasis added]

District Policy DKC and its implementing regulation, DKC-R, are woefully deficient in terms of providing for oversight of expenditures and reimbursements, especially for travel. The policy merely refers to A.R.S. 38-624 for limitations on reimbursement amounts. The GPS governing board’s failure to oversee GPS employee travel is particularly striking in light of the fact that at almost every board meeting the board routinely approves an agenda item for field trips by students, reviewing detailed explanations for each student field trip. That is the only employee travel that the GPS Governing Board votes to approve: when employees supervise a student field trip.

GPS vouchers with extensive travel expenditures are generally included in the Consent Agendas of board meetings. Those vouchers indicate extensive travel by GPS employees using both state and federal funds over the past many years. Even though it was pointless to oppose payment of vouchers that included suspicious spending for unapproved expenses, two board members, Daryl Colvin and Julie Smith, voted against voucher approval many times while Lily Tram was president of the GPS governing board.

Inconsistencies within vouchers invited attention to expenditures and indications of public corruption within GPS. With three reliable rubber stamp votes, a board president providing cover and a board clerk who apparently never questioned vouchers (as required by her position), there was basically no oversight of Christina Kishimoto’s extravagant spending or excessive travel by the superintendent and her sycophants.

New board members: you might consider impounding all travel files in GPS RIGHT NOW so they can be independently audited. We’ll point out more reasons below. Here’s a caveat about all the files disappearing; we have archived quite a lot of public records for comparison to what your audit will reveal. In addition, those public records already have been provided to enforcement agencies, so a GPS file shredding party, like the one Dave Allison threw, won’t erase the full history. More to the point: obstruction of justice is a separate charge; remember the mantra, “It’s always the cover up.” Al Capone’s conviction for tax evasion also is worthy of recall. 

Christina Kishimoto does not request approval for her own travel as required by Arizona law; on occasion, she merely informs the GPS Governing Board that she will be traveling. Her most recent vacation to a resort location at taxpayer expense was to New Orleans. From the January 2017 voucher report:

AMER ASSOC OF SCHOOL ADMINSTRATORS INC.  Conference Registration Fees for Dr. Christina M. Kishimoto to attend the AASA/ALAS Conference in New Orleans – March 1-4, 2017 The purpose of this conference is professional development and networking opportunities. $925.00.

How do we know that Christina Kishimoto actually attended the boondoggle  conference? She tweeted on her SuperDork account about her buddy John King, former US Secretary of Education, who won an award. Yep, THAT John King, a Bronx dude who almost destroyed public schools in the state of New York before he was peter-principled to the national stage. She also tweeted admiration for writer Monique Morris, citing her bold talk about women leader voice in cultural relevancy and competency in schools. Too bad Christina Kishimoto didn’t know that Monique Morris admires and retweeted this: “No parent should have to fight against their school district to meet the needs of their students.” Christina Kishimoto’s track record in both Hartford and GPS is one of parents constantly fighting for their kids and unceasingly pushing back against destroying neighborhood schools. But we digress.

Notice that the $925.00 registration fee that GPS paid did not include travel expenses for Christina Kishimoto’s taste of Mardi Gras Land. Those expenses generally were listed separately in the past; GPS has gone to great lengths to hide the total expenses for most trips financed by GPS taxpayers by spreading them across several months of vouchers in the GPS “needle in the haystack” financial system.

There’s a new wrinkle in the consolidated vouchers posted recently on the GPS website: an Open Purchase Order, presumably set up to evade scrutiny by a new MBA kind of guy who is now the board clerk. Most of the GPS financial wrinkles have been designed to prevent accountability, it seems. The newest voucher entry: “Employee Travel (Out of District) Costs-Dr. Kishimoto  expenses for travel to professional development conferences.  Per Dana M. an open PO for travel purchases is acceptable for the 2016-17 school year. Travel expenses include, hotel and airline and gr…” The amount shown is $913.18.

Interestingly, there was  a separate entry for Conference Registration Fees for Dr. Christina M. Kishimoto to attend the AASA/ALAS Conference in New Orleans – March 1-4, 2017 in the amount of $1,025.00 that GPS paid in addition to the $925.00 for the same conference. Add in close to a thousand dollars for travel costs, and pretty soon, you’re talking about real money, so to speak.

New board members: does this make you feel silly for questioning ~$750.00 annual transportation costs for Kishimoto’s newest school design, the junior high gifted academy? You might feel even sillier when you approve the $8,100.00 expense on the February vouchers for some of Christina Kishimoto’s favorite sycophants to attend the attend Race, Equity and Leadership in Schools held at Harvard Graduate School of Education March 20, 2017 – March 25, 2017. You already approved $4,066.35 for travel for that boondoggle in the January 2017 Voucher Report. Spending $12,000.00+ for top level administrators to party at Harvard makes your scrutiny of Christina Kishimoto’s *school designs* seem to be petty, or window dressing,or just trivial, as you seem to be easily distracted. Christina Kishimoto has proven herself to be a master of distraction, as you already should know. 

Christina Kishimoto attended an ALAS conference in Philadelphia a few months before her trip to New Orleans. “Emp Training  & Prof Dev Registration- Dr. Christina Kishimoto will attend the 2016 ALAS Summit in Philadelphia PA on October 12-15, 2016” for which the district paid $450.00 for registration only. This does not include travel expenses. ALAS is a national organization for Latino Superintendents, of which Christina Kishimoto was president last year. It is an affiliate of  the American Association of School Administrators. These groups and their so-called conferences are all boondoggles, set up for superintendents and their pet administrators to party across the country on the taxpayer’s dime. Maybe the $913.18 travel expense was for the Philadelphia conference, and the tab for Kishimoto’s New Orleans soiree hasn’t hit the vouchers yet. See? Who knows? That’s how the GPS financial system operates.

New board members: did you notice all the thousands upon thousands of dollars in the February 2017 voucher report for travel by other GPS employees? You’re going to approve them at the March 28, 2017 board meeting! Part of the pattern and practice of GPS administrators is to suck you guys into the corruption … once you have failed to diligently review expenditures, you’ve fallen into the muck of GPS mismanagement. BTW, there’s an entry for a *past due* payment for travel from the 2014-2015 school year in the amount of $975.00.

Bottom line: NONE OF THIS TRAVEL WAS APPROVED BY THE GPS GOVERNING BOARD AS REQUIRED BY A.R.S 15-342. The GPS business office did not have authority to pay for unapproved travel. We’ll look at how complicated this mess is in future FW&A posts.

Celebrating the Future Return of Sunshine to Gilbert Public Schools

National Sunshine Week is March 12-18, 2017, and Westie again awards the Darkest Recesses Award to GPS Superintendent Christina Kishimoto. Karma marked the superintendent’s proclivity for secrecy in Gilbert Public Schools with a most perverse development: Christina Kishimoto’s daughter Maria, an aspiring journalist in the tradition of sunshine in governance, just won a big honor.

For some unknown reason, the news on a GPS Twitter feed was deleted. Westie to the rescue!

[Keyboard: Did Gilbert High School delete a public record from Twitter?]

Take a moment to applaud Maria Kishimoto’s achievement. It’s a big deal:

GHS student Maria Kishimoto will travel to D.C. for prestigious Journalism conference! Congratulations Maria!

The news of Maria Kishimoto’s celebrity roared throughout Gilbert High School media outlets. Maria will be attending a George Mason University confab this summer; the famous university is the host of the Washington Journalism and Media Conference (WJMC). Each summer, the WJMC welcomes high school student leaders from all over the country as National Youth Correspondents.

Maria Kishimoto’s announcement and Christina Kishimoto’s Darkest Recesses Award are two sides of the same coin. Sunshine Week was started in 2005 by the American Society of News Editors to educate the public about the importance of open government and the dangers of excessive and unnecessary secrecy. Happy birthday, James Madison!

Sunshine Week and Open Government — It’s Not a “News Media” Thing, It’s a “You and Me” ThingThere might be an inclination to dismiss Sunshine Week and the concepts of open government and transparency generally as “something only the media and journalists care about.”  Anyone who takes that view, does so at his or her own peril – perhaps literally. In fact, it is often said that “transparency is the bedrock of democracy” because it is our ability to obtain information about our leaders and directly participate in our own governance — be it at the local, state or federal level — that allows our society to function.

Let’s take a moment to reflect on the fact that for National Sunshine Week of 2017, GPS superintendent Christina Kishimoto has again won Westie’s *Darkest Recesses* Award. Her achievements include a lack of transparency in government operations due to excessive secrecy, refusing to produce public records when requested by citizens and delaying for as long as a year before providing some records and denying others … on nothing more than a whim, it appears. Christina Kishimoto is a champion at disregarding laws she dislikes and giving middle finger salutes to people she really, really dislikes.

What does this have to do with Maria Kishimoto’s trip to Washington D.C. to attend a *prestigious Journalism conference*? Karma laughs at the cognitive dissonance between the daughter’s aspiration to a profession that honors truth and justice, juxtaposed against the mom’s loathsome determination to evade scrutiny of momentous decisions and extravagant expenditures of the public school district that employs her. Never mind such inconveniences as Arizona public records laws and open meeting laws, Christina Kishimoto’s continual violations are intended to induce fatigue: she seems to believe the public and the board will simply give up trying to hold her to account for anything at all.

There’s another element to Karma’s satirical wit during this Sunshine Week. Tuition to attend the WJM Conference is $1965. Plus airfare, etc. Seeing as how Christina Kishimoto is so adept at making the public pay for much of her daily expenses for food and entertainment, among other things, will Maria Kishimoto figure out how to attend the Washington Journalism and Media Conference at someone else’s expense? Like mother, like daughter? Will Christina Kishimoto, a six-figure salaried public employee, hit up *pals* in Gilbert to pay her daughter’s tuition and expenses? Even if it’s not illegal, is it ethical?

Here’s fundraising advice from the Washington Journalism and Media Conference organizers:

Identify your Potential Sponsors:  Start by making a list of all the people and organizations that could be potential sponsors. Think outside the box! The list will likely include family, friends, neighbors, teachers, coaches, church members, local businesses, and other community groups. Don’t leave out your parents’ friends, co-workers, your doctor, your dentist, or anyone else in your life. Use the Sponsor Form to begin listing all of the individuals and companies you will contact. Organizations to Consider: · Knights of Columbus · American Legion · PTA or PTO · Church and Temple groups · Alumni Associations · Junior Chamber of Commerce · Elks Clubs · Women’s Clubs · Local Political Organizations · Law Firms · School Board · Local Retail Stores · Car Dealerships · Restaurants

The monumental question underlying Sunshine Week is, “How long will the GPS Governing Board continue to allow Christina Kishimoto to flout laws and district policies?” While GPS students and employees enjoy their Spring Break, we’ll be putting finishing touches on Westie’s next series of posts about Fraud, Waste and Abuse in Gilbert Public Schools. Violating public records laws and open meeting laws is part of the problem, but there is so much more that needs to be put out into public view.

In the past, GPS has been able to sweep lawlessness under the rug, sometimes by initiating a so-called investigation by pet lawyers funded by The Trust. Phony labels such as “confidential” or “due process” or “executive content” have been slapped on to any complaints, investigations, reports, conclusions and (perhaps) corrective actions so the public never knows what really happened.  Westie to the rescue again!

We’ll post public complaints here, on this blog, along with evidence that shows the truth of the lawbreaking, wrongdoing, misfeasance, malfeasance and betrayal of the public trust. What’s different from what Westie has been doing for the past five years or more is that EVERY ONE OF THE COMPLAINTS will already have been lodged with federal and state enforcement agencies, along with extensive evidence proving the allegations. A public record already has been made.

What this means for Gilbert Public Schools is that it won’t do any good for GPS employees to destroy evidence or forge or *manufacture* public records in attempts to obstruct justice. Enforcement agencies already have the goods on GPS, so to speak. GPS doesn’t know exactly what public records have been distributed and shared among citizens who cooperated in building these cases against rampant wrongdoing and self enrichment, due to their own proclivity for secrecy and lousy record keeping.

There are many citizens of the Town of Gilbert who already feel betrayed by the aftermath of the GPS governing board’s decision to *hit pause* on relocating Gilbert Classical Academy. Exhibit Number One is Christina Kishimoto’s email to a portion of the public  about a new initiative to combine Mesquite Junior High School with Mesquite High School so that GCA can take over the Mesquite Junior High School campus … which was their going-in position a year ago. Once again, it appears that the GPS board will reward the special snowflakes and their loud-mouthed, insatiable parents at the expense of families on the west side of the town.

Kishimoto’s email pronouncement was an extension of the tried and true GPS tradition of “It’s a holiday, let’s fire someone!” This time, GPS is turning fire on the resistance fighters of Mesquite Junior High … Kishimoto is working on kicking those students out of their neighborhood school, and she’s giving them the entire Spring Break to worry about what’s happening behind closed doors. Again.

Maybe Karma wants Christina Kishimoto to experience how it feels to know that doom is just around the corner. Birdies, thank you for all you do in the name of truth, justice and the American Way. This time, the public will know exactly what has been going on in Gilbert Public Schools. Cheers!

GPS Superintendent Answers a Complaint: It’s Someone Else’s Fault

Christina KishimotoWill wonders never cease? Christina Kishimoto responded to a citizen complaint filed with GPS board members under GPS Policy KE! Actually, what happened was that Westie sent an official complaint to all five board members at their non-GPS email addresses; it’s common knowledge that all correspondence to the GPS board is routed to the superintendent, an attorney for GPS and who-knows-who-else. In Westie’s experience, emails and requests for public records have mysteriously disappeared into the bowels of GPS computer systems, so getting an actual acknowledgment was unusual. To have Board President Sheila Rogers actually do something [put Kishimoto in the corner until she can behave] was a win for truth and justice. Bravo!

But then, all that resulted was the superintendent simply blamed anyone but herself for not just failing to protect private personal information, but also for putting that information online so as to embarrass and humiliate innocent people. The lawless tone at the top put a GPS employee at critical risk of identity theft. But it was all someone else’s fault, according to Christina Kishimoto. Now that the horse has left the barn, she’s going to direct stern words at some lowly administrative assistant or business office clerk. You should know that the offending GPS Voucher was edited at 11:41 Saturday night … before the deadline Westie gave the district for posting a link to the information that should not have been online. It must have been the deadline that caused someone to pay attention for once.

We’ll submit a most specific complaint to the board about how GPS, under Christina Kishimoto’s so-called leadership, continues to violate privacy of students … and this time, a top-level administrator. Surely Christopher R. Stroud, principal of Gilbert High School doesn’t care that his name, date of birth and cell phone number have been online for weeks.* His drivers license number, too … sweet! Maybe it’s more scary that Westie knows his flight numbers for his fancy trip to a resort location on the taxpayers’ dime.

Below is the message Westie received from Christina Kishimoto as a response to that formal complaint. Pay attention, new board members: it’s very significant that the GPS email from the superintendent contained only an image of a GPS letter. That’s because an image is not searchable if a citizen requests public records dealing with certain words in text. GPS has mastered sneaky ways to thwart public scrutiny, and this is one of the most prevalent: use images and ridiculous subject lines like, “Good Morning.” In this day and age, that’s malpractice or worse, but it’s just business as usual for Gilbert Public Schools. No wonder parents are voting with their feet by fleeing the district!


Date: February 21, 2017
Re:     Response to Complaint Under GPS Policy KE – Submitted February 11, 2017

Dear Westie,

Your complaint filed to Board Members via email on February 11, 2017 was referred to me by Board President Rogers for an administrative response.

In regards to the posting of GPS voucher reports on line with sensitive or protected information, the district finance staff took immediate action to correct information that should not be posted publicly, and they researched the cause of the error. In addition to taking immediate corrective action, the finance staff conducted a review of procedural guidance and training provided to staff responsible for digitally inputting information that generates these public records. Additionally, the finance staff reviewed our legal requirements with our auditors. As a result of these reviews, we are making the following adjustments that will add safeguards within our procedurals steps:

Purchase Requisition Entry Process

The purchase requisition entry and approval process has been revised for staff to address the identification or listing of protected, confidential and sensitive personal information on the Detailed Report of District Expenditures Report published on the District’s website. Examples of protected and confidential information include student names, student ID numbers and any information that can be used to link a parent to their child’s special programs such as Special Education or McKinney Vento in relation to student refunds, reimbursements or payments. Additionally, sensitive personal information such as social security number, date of birth and driver’s license number are reflected in this guidance.

The Detailed Report of District Expenditures Report utilizes line item descriptions from purchase orders and line item costs from invoices. The revised process shifts entry of protected, confidential or sensitive information required for accounting records and auditors to other fields in the financial system. The information in these fields will not be reported on the Detailed Report of District Expenditures Report.

Parent as Vendor

If a parent is the recipient of a payment from the district, their name will continue to appear on the report as they are considered a “vendor”. The District consulted with its audit firm on the issue of listing a parent’s name if they receive a payment from the school district. It is their opinion, based on requirements in Arizona Revised Statute § 41-725, that a parent receiving payment from the school district is a vendor and subsequently their name should be listed in the expenditure report.

Training Review with Purchase Order Originators

The new process focuses on working closely with purchase order originators (primarily administrative assistants) to appropriately enter protected, confidential and sensitive information. Additionally, we will work with purchase order approvers (at the school level and Finance Department) to more closely monitor purchase order line item descriptions.

Administrative assistant staff training regarding the new process has been initiated. The new process has been communicate with administrators and will be reviewed with all the Principals at next week’s Professional Learning Committee meetings.

Thank you for bringing this matter to the administration’s attention.

Dr. Christina M. Kishimoto Superintendent


BOTTOM LINE: Not Kishimoto’s fault. There is a lot of BS to avoid Westie’s specific request included with the complaint, as GPS Policy KE requires: “I will ask simply that appropriate disciplinary action be taken against Christina Kishimoto and that you respond to me that you have done so.” The GPS board might consider putting the incompetent GPS superintendent on a Performance Improvement Plan … now THAT would have been a response worthy of veneration!

Wait, maybe the new board members did something like that! Agenda Item 13.01, GPS Governing Board meeting on February 28, 2017: “The Governing Board may convene an Executive Session to discuss A.R.S. 38-431.03(A)(1) Community Complaint Filed regarding Superintendent and Informal Evaluation.”

Birdies, it may be that the times they are a-changin

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who that it’s namin’

Stunning Incompetence at the Inception of the Push for a New GCA Campus

Dilbert Gilbert Public Schools is at a crossroads right now: decisions made by the newly elected school board will affect GPS in significant and irrevocable ways. An imminent vote giving the final go-ahead for constructing a *new home* for Gilbert Classical Academy is a line in the sand: there will be no second chance once this project goes forward. Taxpayers appealed to the board for responsible stewardship of the public purse: approving this ill-considered *designed on the fly* project without knowing basic details can be expected to result in the multi-million dollar project spiraling out of control. Bottom line: this entire mismanaged mess can be stopped on February 28, 2017. Or not. The choice is yours, new board members.

That’s especially true in the hands of Kishimoto and her acolytes who can’t manage to pay employees, let alone manage a project of this magnitude. None of these concerns seemed to matter in the haste to tie the new board’s hands to decisions made by Kishimoto’s Rubber Stamp Board, especially the acrimonious $100,000 contracting authority that allowed Kishimoto to hire her chosen architects who attended Business Leader Breakfasts hosted by the Gilbert Education Foundation … and who donate money every time Kishimoto wants to party with the folks who obviously adore her. <snort>

Countless residents of the MJHS neighborhood have tried to warn the board that the whole project was based on nothing more than Kishimoto’s buzzwords and made-up metrics. Just before the first decision by the newly installed board was to be made, GPS admins admitted that the data they were using had no basis in reality. Instead of a new campus for 1,500 students, total enrollment will be capped at 1,100, leaving no room for growth for either school. Parents and teachers throughout the district were enraged that Kishimoto thought a cafeteria with a capacity of 300 was plenty for the entire school, whether it was 1,100 or 1,500 … “Let them eat lunch in their classrooms!” she decreed.

Not only was the student enrollment estimate wildly off base, citizens discovered that the entire process of reconfiguring a public school had been mismanaged from the inception. Before superintendent Christina Kishimoto made recommendations to the governing board, she should have (1) read state law about changing a public school configuration and (2) ascertained that the various options were actually feasible. But Kishimoto had a Rubber Stamp Board, so she didn’t do this. As events unfold, it has become clear that this project was doomed from day one due to Kishimoto’s pathetic incompetence.

When questioned about the role of the Arizona School Facilities Board at the February 2017 work study session, various personages assured the GPS governing board that the SFB was a paper tiger, whose role was to bless the project when it was finished. Never mind what state law requires, they assured timid board members, “We know how the system works, you don’t, so sit down and shut up.” Christina Kishimoto has speaking engagements to film as she polishes her national reputation, and apparently she does not intend to be drawn into discussions over trivial things such as details. Someone might hold her feet to the fire with her original cost estimates for the Great GCA Takeover, you know.

We’ve been down this road in Gilbert, Arizona with this GPS superintendent before, and you would think governing board members would demand accountability. You might think wrong, since the agenda for the ominous February 28,2017 board meeting has been *embargoed* or just ignored. We’re sure the GPS administration will somehow manage to comply with the minimum 24 hour public notice requirement in open meeting law. <sarcasm>

The question is, why would new board members buy into this attempt to tamp down public opposition to the three or four blockbuster controversies expected to be on the board meeting agenda? Have they bought into superintendent Christina Kishimoto’s modus operandi of keeping the public in the dark until it’s too late? Maybe someone should tell the GPS governing board that they’re already so late with their paperwork to get on the SFB agenda, this ridiculous project can’t even be considered by the SFB until April 2017. Maybe that’s an indication that the SFB doesn’t consider itself to be irrelevant after all.

Due diligence should have been the very first step for the board’s 2015 priority of “Identify a permanent location for Gilbert Classical Academy and finalize a comprehensive plan to support full implementation of the school design.” Instead, the Rubber Stamp Board panicked and threw a monkey wrench into the works. Thus, the *school within a school concept* that had been hastily proposed as a false flag instead became the new home for GCA. This was supposed to be a fast, cheap and easy solution to a a self-inflicted injury that was turning the community against the school district.

Kishimoto’s staggering incompetence took center stage as the project to merge GCA with Mesquite Junior High School moved forward while she drove the entire project over a cliff. GPS did a survey; parents said they were going to vote with their feet and leave MJHS. Who could blame parents who bailed out of GPS in favor of a more stable educational environment?

Christina Kishimoto made the same errors that halted the closing of GJHS in 2013: she failed to follow the lawThe key to stopping former GPS superintendent Dave Allison’s sleazy maneuver in 2012 was parental involvement and a “Never Give Up!” attitude. BTW, Dave Allison announced his retirement after he screwed up so badly a new GPS governing board had to clean up his GCA mess  when it became clear his services would no longer be needed. From a contemporaneous news report about how bad GPS admins screwed up closing Gilbert Junior High School:

Parents discovered that the district did not follow several state laws, including notifying and receiving approval from the state School Facilities Board before deciding to close Gilbert Junior High; properly notifying parents of the time and place of the October meeting when the board first voted on the closure recommendation; and notifying all parents affected by the possible closure.

Members of the community who had opposed and ultimately halted the previous GPS superintendent’s attempt to close Gilbert Junior High School offered a hand to resistance fighters at MJHS. Since the current GPS administration was totally unable to manage their way out of a paper bag, parents made inquiries that should have been made before any school was put on the chopping block for GCA.

MJHS resistance fighters did the due diligence that was never performed by the GPS administration and was never considered or questioned by the Rubber Stamp governing board. When asked if the architectural plans Kishimoto sent out for bidding were compliant with Arizona law, the Arizona School Facilities Board responded:

If Mesquite Junior High were reconfigured from 7-8 to 7-12, its square footage would be pro-rated, and its new capacities would be 385 for 7-8 and 704 for 9-12. The process begins with the District submitting a Governing Board resolution requesting the reconfiguration, per A.R.S. 15-341 G. Then staff analyzes the request and we make a recommendation to our Board. We have not received a District resolution regarding a reconfiguration of Mesquite Junior High. Thank you.

NEW BOARD MEMBERS: you know Christina Kishimoto’s appeal to you will be that you can’t waste all the money she’s already spent on this MJHS/GCA merger.  Kishimoto will demand that you approve the construction bid NOW or the project cannot meet the timeline she gave the bidders.  Besides, she already has asbestos cleanup set to go … as a project *independent* of the construction bid that has not been approved.  Such chutzpah!  There will be no time for you to carefully consider if this project is the best use of public funds.  There will be no opportunity for you to get answers to why the original construction estimates for the GCA location options were so low compared to the bids we expect you will see on February 28, 2017.  

Kishimoto may be railroading you, but you don’t have to comply with her demands. Who’s the boss, anyway? The tarot card you were dealt when you raised your hand and took your oath was NOT auspicious with regard to this GCA project:

Wheel of Fortune Reversed: Bad luck, negative external forces, out of control. Accept responsibility for your current and future situation, and look for ways that you can create more positive outcomes. 

This is also not a time to be taking risks as you may not come out a winner. You may need to be more cautious than before, taking more time to assess your options and to select the safest bet.

You have been dealt a bad card, but all is not lost: Stiffen your spines


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