School District Stipend Scheme Attracts FBI Attention

Gilbert Public Schools is in “good company” with some of the shenanigans involving the superintendency that have been coming to light recently. The St. Joseph School District, which is slightly ahead of the curve in comparison to events within GPS, has attracted the attention of the FBI in regard to the district’s finances and stipends. It took one board member asking questions to unravel a scheme much like what we’ve been chronicling about GPS Good Old Boys.

This post will explore commonalities between GPS and the school district currently under FBI investigation:

School board member Chris Danford raised questions last month about $250,000 in stipends paid to administrators, principals and assistant principals at the beginning of the school year. She also questioned why [HR Director] Flowers had promoted five staff members — including his wife — to technical director status without board approval. Danford said the stipends enhanced administrative salaries without going through the board, as required by district policy. A few days after the March 24 meeting where Danford raised her concerns, the district’s chief financial officer was placed on administrative leave. District officials have declined to comment on his status or say why he was placed on leave.

It’s important to know where the stipends went in GPS, because the Zero Based Budget will go before the Governing Board soon. We heard that when asked about information about stipends paid to employees, GPS staff claimed it was “too hard to do.” Apparently, citizens on the ZBB committee are getting the same mushroom treatment that board members have received in the past. A citizen who requested information about stipends under public records laws received information about some support staff stipends, but not certified staff stipends. Instead, GPS produced a list of costs associated with allowing lateral movement on the salary scale for teachers (who have been frozen in place for more than five years). The associated cost was $881,060 for teacher professional growth in 2010-2011. That was just too much for GPS, it appears. There’s one GPS employee who has been skipping around on the salary schedule, though!

Just like GPS avoiding public records disclosures, the St. Joseph School District seems to have a problem with those pesky public records laws. They’re called Sunshine Laws in Missouri:

In addition to the FBI and the State Auditor’s Office, The Missouri Attorney General’s Office is also investigating a Sunshine Law complaint against the district.

It appears that GPS GOBs have been using stipends for line-of-sight bonuses for support staff in recent years. Salaries were frozen even though an override was in place, but it appears the GOBS thought some employees were more worthy than others, just like some GPS students are more equal than  others.  Hint: a birdie told us the stipends were concentrated at the district offices, and that a few members of the superintendency were using stipends to reward their own staffers before the superintendency person retired. We also learned about special stipends paid in advance to two assistant superintendents who never managed to get around to doing the special project they were supposed to do in order to receive the stipends. Hey, that’s yet another parallel to the St. Joseph School District!

Here’s another parallel: the amount of stipends at issue in St. Joseph is about $250,000. Hey, that’s close enough for government work to the $150,000 paid in line-of-sight bonuses to GPS support staff! The question has to be, did the  Governing Board approve all those stipends? Or were those stipends slid in under the radar the way Crystal Korpan’s promotion was done? Good Old Dave’s belated communication to the board claimed Crystal Korpan’s MBA made the raise worthwhile. We hear that Crystal Korpan says she doesn’t actually have an MBA, but who cares about a silly little detail like TRUTH when a superintendent communicates with his governing board?

It’s like a breath of fresh air when we discover that law enforcement agencies actually care about public officials who abuse the public trust and spend taxpayers’ money without accountability. Remember this sleight-of-hand trick?  At one point in 2011, Good Old Dave Allison told the board, GPS employees and the tax-paying public that he had suspended administrators’ annual stipend  in the amount of $800. We later discovered that what was really going on was  incredible expenditures for conferences, travel, hotels and rental cars at exotic locations for administrator training rather than for the classroom or for teacher improvement, as the purposes of the grants that funded these trips would suggest. So why had administrators been receiving $800 annually in addition to taxpayer-funded professional training?

Maybe when the FBI gets finished with the St. Joseph School District, they can look at Gilbert Public Schools. There are so many of the same appearances of corruption.  There’s also a question about who pays the tab for all the legal representation when the FBI comes to call.

The costs for the personnel issue will be covered by the district’s insurance carrier. The district will pay the cost for representation during the FBI investigation. He [the district's lawyer] added that he didn’t think the FBI investigation would be a long-term proposition. “That’s my impression. I have talked with the agents, I’ve talked with the U.S. attorney. We have a very cordial relationship,” he said. “I told them that if there is any information we can get from them, or something we can assist them with, we want to get that information to them and facilitate their review.”

Look! Another parallel of sorts with GPS! Actually, there was a bit of controversy about giving information to the Gilbert Police Department and allowing them access to GPS to facilitate police investigation of a server that was wiped and $2 Million that was not available for use in classrooms. We can’t figure out why there should be a controversy when board members perform their fiduciary duties to oversee proper use and accounting for public funds, but this is Gilbert Public Schools: 100 years of tradition unhampered by progress.

We found another school district has been using similar tricks to enrich a chosen few at the expense of educating students:

Rank has its privilege for top administrators in Lewisville, Texas Independent School District, where in addition to high salaries, members of the Superintendent’s cabinet receive stipends and car allowances adding up to a combined $174,000 per year at a time when the district is facing huge looming budget shortfalls, and looking to trim $10.6 million in the coming year in part by cutting programs and increasing class sizes.

[Editorial Opinion:] If you hire a person for a position that has a functional role in the cabinet, then you pay that person what they’re worth, and they participate in the cabinet and attend meetings because it’s their job, and they want to keep it. When you have highly-compensated employees, they earn their money in part because of the responsibility for attending meetings and taking on extra duties to get the job done.

These  Texas stipends came to light as a result of a public records request by the local media. This isn’t chump change: the spreadsheet the media obtained shows almost $6 Million per year going to stipends, over and above salaries and benefits paid to employees. Stipends, though, seem to flow to “special” employees only. Just like GPS?

Back to St. Joseph, where the FBI paid a visit to the home of a person being investigated. Hey, another parallel! We heard that Shane McCord and Jeff Filloon received visits from the Gilbert Police and local media at their homes, too. We also had a report of a police detective at the GPS Information Technology offices. Showing that someone is taking these matters seriously, St. Joseph is getting extra attention via a state audit:

FBI agents also visited the home of Human Resources Director Doug Flowers on Thursday afternoon. They were at the home for nearly an hour and a half. … Meanwhile, the board, during its monthly meeting Thursday evening, listened to a representative from the Missouri state auditor’s office lay out a timeline for its audit of district finances.

Maybe someone (Gilbert Police, FBI, Arizona Auditor General or similar) will get to the bottom of where all the money went in Gilbert Public Schools. It certainly doesn’t look like it went to the classrooms. Wouldn’t it be nice to have all this investigation stuff concluded before Dr. Kishimoto takes the helm of GPS?

Gilbert Public Schools Loses Again, Settles Public Records Lawsuit

Gilbert Public Schools lost another attempt to hide wrongdoing by top-level officials in the superintendency when the Arizona School Risk Retention Trust (ASRRT, The Trust) settled a lawsuit that was brought against GPS for failing to provide public records requested by citizens.  When it comes to GPS and the Good Old Boys, those little things called laws are slippery little suckers. Here’s some Blinding Flash of the Obvious advice for GOBs: follow the law or pay up!

Let’s cut to the bottom line: GPS (through The Trust) paid Plaintiffs’ lawyers a total of $25,000 for a lawsuit that GPS could never win, but litigated anyway.  The Trust also paid a few thousand dollars for the mediation that resulted in settlement. Why would The Trust defend GPS’s failure to produce public records upon request? As best we can figure, it was the Lawyers’ Perpetual Employment Society in action, guided by ASRRT, The Trust, an entity created with tax dollars that have been flushed down a black hole of unaccountability over many years.

The $64,000 Question is, “How much did The Trust pay the lawyers from the Jones, Skelton & Hochuli law firm for this little kabuki dance?” We believe the answer is about $100,000; as usual, there was the potential for much more, except that the opportunity for perpetual litigation was severely limited when GPS lost the Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. As much as the LPES lawyers howled, they still lost and GPS was ordered to pay Plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees. Here’s the real deal: the LPES lawyers argued they didn’t like losing, then they argued that the Plaintiffs should not have won. At each step along the way, the LPES lawyers were billing The Trust as they filed those documents in court. Plaintiffs’ lawyers had to respond to the each step of the LPES kabuki dance, which ran up legal fees on both sides. [BTW: In 2014 dollars, the $64,000 of the aforementioned scandal is worth about $560,000.]

The public records lawsuit was filed under A.R.S. § 39-121 to compel Gilbert Unified School District No. 41 (the “District”) to provide public records to which Plaintiffs were wrongfully denied access or copies.  The lovely thing about bringing an authentic* public records lawsuit is that the aggrieved person who was denied the records can recoup costs and attorneys’ fees for bringing the case to court:

A.R.S. § 39-121.02. Action upon denial of access; expenses and attorney fees; damages
A. Any person who has requested to examine or copy public records pursuant to the provisions of this article, and who has been denied access to or the right to copy such records, may appeal the denial through a special action in the superior court, pursuant to the rules of procedure for special actions against the officer or public body.
B. If the court determines that a person was wrongfully denied access to or the right to copy a public record and if the court finds that the custodian of such public record acted in bad faith, or in an arbitrary or capricious manner, the superior court may award to the petitioner legal costs, including reasonable attorney fees, as determined by the court.
C. Any person who is wrongfully denied access to public records pursuant to the provisions of this article shall have a cause of action against the officer or public body for any damages resulting therefrom.

Even when a Governing Board knows that the superintendency was wrong to withhold public records, the board has no vote about litigating the h*ll out of the case, because the GOBs and The Trust are in control, not the board.  The Trust prides itself on retaining control of claims, leaving Governing Boards totally out of the loop in litigation. They’re proud of it! And as long as there is money in The Trust’s bank accounts (we estimate $5 Billion) the LPES lawyers just can’t help themselves from taking a piece of the pie for themselves and their law firms. Just like budgeting in government agencies where agencies make certain to spend every last dime every year, lawyers for The Trust never leave school district money on the table – they make sure they take every penny possible.

A couple of members of the GPS governing board and the wannabes that want to “take back” the board seats they lost are now complaining about the high cost of fulfilling requests for public records. One wannabe who couldn’t get elected after he had a seat handed to him is now in full battle mode about the costs involved.  A citizen who frequently comments at board meetings helpfully compiled a list of how many requests for public records have been made over the past few years. Unfortunately for the validity of that list, the fact of the matter is that GPS simply didn’t keep track of the public records requests they ignored for so long. So yes, there is a big uptick in public records requests in the past year or so. It says something really ugly about past administrators that members of the Governing Board must submit requests for public records in order to exercise their fiduciary duty to citizens and taxpayers and learn what’s really going on in Gilbert Public Schools.

A “benefit” of litigation is that you get “discovery” from the very same folks who refused to give access to the public records in the first place, but this time, there’s a judge presiding over the process. It’s a lot harder to just refuse to cooperate (although GPS tried mightily). That’s how we “discovered” that GPS Community Relations was supposed to be in charge of responding to public records requests, even though we had been told that Assistant Superintendent Clyde Dangerfield was the head dude in charge of that stuff. As it turns out, there was a whole lot of turmoil in Community Relations under the “leadership” of six-figure salaried Dianne Bowers, which came to light as we pressed for additional public records.

Coincidently, Community Relations staffer Nicole Richardson’s forays into inappropriate social media commentary revealed that there was an investigation report that conveniently was un-protected by attorney-client privilege (a questionable claim that didn’t have to be litigated, as it turned out). We asked for a copy of that investigation report, and we discovered all kinds of unsavory activity related to producing public records, specifically in reference to Westie! We very helpfully turned around and disclosed that fact in our public records lawsuit, and the whole case suddenly was about GPS GOBs destroying public records (or ceasing to keep them) so that they could keep their wrongdoing under wraps.

This brings us to a stopping point for today, because we told you about how GPS “lost” in court again … and paid a price for it. We guess that the GPS GOBs don’t think twice about dropping $125,000 plus to litigate a losing proposition, but we know that Gilbert citizens resent such huge sums of money being funneled away from educating students. Every penny that goes to ASRRT, The Trust every year could have been spent on students, teachers, staff … you know, worthwhile educational endeavors. Instead, GPS (and all Arizona school districts) toss money to the winds in the form of unnecessary money paid to lawyers for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with education. That’s what happened during the years of complacent school boards in GPS … brought to you by the same people who now want to “take back” what they had before voters rejected them.

We’ll have more for you about the newly-disclosed investigation report soon. In addition to the public records we finally received, we gained a lot of knowledge through answers to interrogatories and sworn deposition testimony from the defendants, the GOBs we all know so well. We’ll continue to update you on those valuable nuggets of information as well.

*Big Fat Asterisk:  We all know how Westie loves authentic information. Tag line: “WesternConnections …  Authentic and Informative.”

Good Old Boys Selectively Silence Voices

People have been running up to the GPS offices to read public record emails and making formal requests for public records, then starting a whole lot of Facebook chatter about their discoveries. We think it’s great, because sunshine kills vampires!*

In the interests of transparency and informing the Gilbert community about important news, we quote below an email that was posted on a Facebook group. The subject was how the GPS Governing Board President was silenced by the Interim Superintendent and an Assistant Superintendent during a board meeting as she was reading prepared remarks that had been vetted by the board’s lawyer. The background was described in this news article:

Gilbert Public Schools’ board president hinted at a 2013 internal investigation into public-records destruction during a discussion about a new policy to strengthen records management at a school-board meeting Tuesday night (April 8, 2014). During a discussion about the policy, Burk said that when “the e-mail system was deleted, there were a number of people that had outstanding public-records requests, including myself, for some of the records that were on that server that was erased.”

Burk said some of the documents people had requested were “related to financial dealings and concerns” in the district. Burk referenced a former administrator and a previous bidding process when Assistant Superintendent Clyde Dangerfield, who oversees finance and legal issues, interjected. “Mrs. Burk, I’d really like to point out that there are people that you’re talking about here (and) that it’s a very dangerous discussion because there are individual rights involved,” Dangerfield said. “And I’m not sure it’s fair to have the discussion you’re having in a public board meeting without those individuals being represented.”

Burk began to speak when interim Superintendent Jim Rice cut in. “Mrs. Burk, I really have a problem with this being discussed as well,” Rice said. “We have an investigation that is supposedly being taken place … we should not enter into any conversation at all regarding this.” Burk again began to speak when board member Lily Tram interjected, saying that the board had yet to discuss the police investigation or see the documents Burk provided police. Burk told Tram, “You have the documents I gave to the police.” Tram responded, “No, no.”

Following is an email that was sent to Dr. Jim Rice, Interim Superintendent of Gilbert Public Schools, and to Assistant Superintendent Clyde Dangerfield, Esquire on April 9, 2014 that shines a whole new light on the events in the linked news article:

There is chatter on Facebook as to how and why Lily Tram and Jill Humpherys were allowed to carry on for several minutes reading from unproven allegedly slanderous allegations regarding Sarah Green and Gladys Mopecha, but I was quickly shut down when I carefully selected my words and even used the word allegedly. It is not allegedly because Barb VeNard herself admitted to me that she sent the emails and the reporter obviously had copies because she wrote about them, but that was not the point.

I was about to go into how the policy had the potential for helping people understand why it was that a certain group felt the way they did and mistrusted. But then, Clyde, you know that. We all know that all of this stuff happened before the Greens came into the picture and that there was a large group that did not trust because of records issues long before the Greens began writing or even got involved with the District. The group of citizens that still have not received the emails are those that mistrust and for that very reason and some of them opposed the override.

As you know, Jim, I mentioned that I wanted us to just come out publicly and say, “Look this happened.” We know it. You both know it. Most of the boardroom knows about it.

But come out and say, “Yes, we know the server was deleted, and this is what we are doing and have done to ensure that something like that doesn’t ever happen again.” The Barracuda system was one thing, the police investigation is another, the staff training and the policy. I know, Jim, that you said Lily and Jill do not want to issue a statement on it, but as you could see, there are still members of the public that haven’t forgotten. I know several others that were not at the meeting and they, too, have not forgotten. I am not saying to continue to re-hash it but to come out and say that it happened, there was some mistrust and this is what we are doing to fix the situation could go a long way in healing the mistrust. What happened tonight with trying to shut it down and hide and cover up and not talk openly about what is really going on is only going to strengthen the divide.

I was about to say that this policy could go a long way into helping to rebuild the trust with those members of the community. I had it all written out to talk about the reasons for the requests for records, the mistrust and how the approval of the policy should help to rebuild. They could tangibly see with the policy that we were taking steps to improve their confidence and show that we value transparency and trust. Instead they saw the same behavior that led to the situation to begin with.

Additionally, I am concerned also that there does seem to be a lack of congruence, Clyde, as to when you choose to jump in and cut off conversation to protect individual rights. If you do not like the person, it is just fine if a couple of board members carry on, mentioning all sorts of unproven allegations for which you have in your possession evidence that counters the things being said. But in this instance, I didn’t even use Barb’s name and went way overboard using alleged when we all know she sent the emails to Jim, and you jumped right in.

I am really having trouble understanding the inconsistency.
Staci Griffin-Burk 

From the comments below the original post: “Barb VeNard forwarded her husband emails containing details of the network deal, while her husband sold HP products and the network deal was between HP and Cisco. That happened while she was supervising the IT. After there were questions from the community, the server with all the emails just happened to be accidentally wiped clean.” There is a link to another Arizona Republic article about the incident. Of course, this is only ONE speculative reason why GPS officials would destroy records on a server to deny access to public records that had been requested by citizens.

Another comment: “Leave Barb Alone? The woman sent emails with pricing information to her husbands email while he was an HP product salesman and it was a competitive bid between HP and Cisco. Not surprising HP won. The Republic got ahold of the emails and wrote a story about them. Parents ask for them and poof the server with the emails are deleted. All this while Barb is over the IT department.” Perhaps the public is starting to understand why it’s so important for the GPS Governing Board to get to the bottom of the server destruction!

As for Lily Tram and Jill Humpherys saying defamatory, venomous things about two teachers, at the time they made those remarks, Lily and Jill knew full well that their remarks would be enshrined in video and archived on the official Gilbert Public Schools website. Just when you think GPS will come to their senses and quit violating laws and district policies, someone in a position of power does something incredibly stupid … again. BTW, what Jill and Lily were reading from appear to have been Defendants’ Motions for Summary Judgment, which were totally disputed and proven to be inaccurate and flat-out wrong in the lawsuit. Ooopsie, Jill and Lily didn’t read the opposition, obviously. So they began a deliberate smearing spree, attacking two teachers with great glee.

Jill Humpherys and Lily Tram seem to have forgotten that Gilbert Public Schools PAID a lot of money for the misdeeds and wrongdoings of GPS superintendents and administrators. Gilbert Public Schools didn’t pay money out of the goodness of their hearts, you know. Now Lily Tram and Jill Humpherys have inflicted even more damage on the reputations of two teachers who stood up to the GPS Good Old Boys. Cue the music!

From Daniele Quinteros: “If what was said about Gladys and Sarah was not true then why only hire back Sarah????” Indeed!

Big Fat Asterisk: Some states call public records laws “Sunshine Laws;” we agree that sunshine is the best disinfectant. And vampire killer.

Stipends Skew Salaries in Gilbert Public Schools

With top dogs high-tailing it out of GPS these days, we took another look at stipends that change salaries for the favored few. Yeppers, what we found goes a long way toward explaining how the GPS Good Old Boys operated for so long: stipends for the favored few. Frozen pay scales for the rest. Except regular support staff who lost 1% of their pay and all employees who saw a big jump in health insurance costs. The top dogs don’t pay for their own health insurance, so they partied on.

We posted about two top dogs, Shane McCord and Jeff Filloon, who helped themselves to an extra cool $2,000 each for 2 years for doing nothing, for a total (that we uncovered thus far) of $8,000 in 2012-2013 and 2013-2014.  Both of these top dogs joined the so-called exodus of GPS employees. But lookie here at a fun fact: Shane McCord is going to Mesa Public Schools at a lower level position than he left, and Jeff Filloon did the same thing when he accepted a job as HR Director in Chandler. They won’t be top dogs for a while, and they’ll be lucky to survive the coming storm of investigations into misuse of public funds to reward themselves for nothing.

About that so-called exodus: the HR reports for the next board meeting show very few resignations and retirements in GPS.  Certified employees: 19 resignations and 3 retirements, which includes one elementary school principal and one teacher married to a high school principal who already announced his resignation. Classified employees: 25 resignations and 16 retirements. Some exodus. Do you think that the mass hysteria in the past couple of weeks was ginned up by The Usual Suspects* to deflect attention from the missing public records and ongoing lawsuits that continue to enmesh GPS in legal battles? Sure, it was all coincidental and spontaneous. <snark>

The agenda for that meeting includes the first read of GPS Policy EHB, Records Management. Lookie here, now there’s a warning about criminal penalties as well as strict direction to the superintendent to preserve emails properly.  It sure sounds like Dave is building his defense: “It wasn’t against board policy when I destroyed those public records.” Sorry, Dave, the laws were already in place. Now the board has locked the place down.

Anyone having custody or possession of any record who steals, or knowingly and without lawful authority destroys, mutilates, defaces, alters, falsifies, removes or secretes all or part of any record, or permits any other person to do so, is guilty of a class four (4) felony.

… The Governing Board is the custodian of the official copies of all records, required or optional, and the Superintendent shall be responsible for protecting such records on behalf of the Board. All electronic communications and any attachments to the communication will be maintained by the District on a system to maintain a copy and retrieve the information. Electronic communications and attachments shall be managed and retained according to the “General Retention Schedule for School Districts and Charter Schools” of the Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records Division of the Arizona Secretary of State.

Today’s subject is stipends, although we got distracted. That’s the way it is when you’re peeling the layers of the onion that is GPS administration. Each layer reveals new data (and hard-fought data at that!) and you have to stay the course to figure out what’s going on. Today’s onion peeling revealed MORE STIPENDS than we knew existed. Somehow, given the mushroom treatment the Governing Board usually gets, we suspect this will be news to many board members.

All of the discussions of which we were aware were limited to teacher stipends in GPS. Then we discovered administrators were getting annual stipends for professional development. At one point, that stipend was $800 per administrator, and to the best of our knowledge that money was in addition to partying at swanky resorts and calling it ‘professional development.’ That was before we found out about the McCord and Filloon special stipends. There has been extensive discussion about teacher stipends, especially during the days when GPS decided to withdraw stipends from elementary music teachers. (That subject will have its own post soon. Patience, Grasshopper.)

The support staff stipends range from itsy-bitsy to grand on the scale of dollars. We thought you loyal viewers would enjoy seeing who has been getting what on the support staff side. Let’s start with the 2012 Longevity Incentive. Fifty one employees divided a pot of $15,000. The 2013 Longevity Incentive had 93 employees dividing the same $15,000 pot.

There’s more, of course: other support staff stipend reports show amounts ranging from $150.00 per employee to a “MAX” of $3,600 (that appears to be just for this list). Look at the Stipends for 2010-2011: 258 employees received $142,425.00 in an “addendum” stipend report. So perhaps there were more employees and/or more money going into stipends that year. Stipends for 2012 show 266 employees receiving $151,975.00. Stipends for 2012-2013 show 271 employees receiving $151,300.00. Stipends for 2013-2014 show 271 employees receiving $157,101.76. We’re very interested in this. Our first birdie chirp was about how GPS employees who worked at the big white building could supplement their pay by as much as $10,000 a year. Another birdie chirped to us that Nikki Blanchard gave raises to her HR employees before she retired. That’s the Gilbert Way: 100 years of tradition unhampered by progress.

There were other pathways to more money for certain select “special” GPS classified staffers. We saw that Good Old Clyde Dangerfield joined up with Jeff Filloon to promote Purchasing Manager Crystal Korpan to a coordinator slot (more $$$) without the board’s approval. They got caught, but managed to push through the promotion anyway a few months later. Now we have a famous “Friday Memo,” the Superintendent’s regular Report to the Board, about that cute little promotion and more. In May of 2013, while Good Old Dave was playing games with 2% stipends for all to influence the vote on the 2012 override, he really, really wanted to promote Crystal because she “does an excellent job.” He also claimed she had an MBA degree, which doesn’t show on Crystal’s resume, but what the hey, Dave wanted to give Crystal a raise and he apparently would say anything to get it done. Apparently, in GPS, you don’t need a college degree to hold a director position (higher than a coordinator) – which is really cute considering that Crystal, as a coordinator, earns TWO teachers’ salaries. Directors can earn as much as THREE teachers’ salaries. That’s the Gilbert Way … again.

Showing what a GOB he was, Dave also decided that since Gary Fujino was resigning as Coordinator of Assessment, he wanted to acquiesce to Good Old Barb VeNard’s request to promote that job to a director position (more $$$). So why in the world would Dave let Gary Fujino move to Chandler for more money, and then promote someone else into a higher level job? Doesn’t make sense, except that Barb was building her empire within GPS. Dave got the superintendent job she wanted, so it looks like Barb was building an empire so she could take back the job she never had.

Keyboard: Hey, that sounds like the “take back our board” crowd, scheming to take back seats for certain board members who got themselves unelected by the voters. Same faulty logic.

Taking that faulty logic a step farther, look at Jeff Filloon’s Technology Department Salaries report from March 2013. Tech Services had TWO network positions that had been vacant for 18 months. GPS has trouble finding replacements, and can’t attract programmers with experience, nor can GPS attract and retain technology repair staff. Salaries are super low (had not been raised since 2000) and employees have little or no opportunity for advancement. GPS had known this for a long, long time, but Tech Services was part of Barb VeNard’s empire and was enmeshed in all kinds of controversies concerning public dollars that seemed to disappear down a rabbit hole. Jeff’s solution: a needs assessment and internal review. Great. No wonder the IT dude resigned!

It’s a good thing that change is coming to GPS top levels. It’s way overdue. We’re not done peeling this onion. Stay tuned.

Big Fat Asterisk: We noticed the Arizona School Boards Association (AZSBA), Arizona Schools Risk RetentionTrust (The Trust), Arizona Education Association (AEA) and Gilbert Education Association (GEA) have been front and center in the swirling controversies they ginned up. Hey, the Executive Director of the Gilbert Education Foundation, Leanne McEachran, was in the audience for the last board meeting! Word gets around fast when people swear at the Board from the ‘safety’ of the peanut gallery. Tsk, tsk.

Was the Zero Tolerance Policy for Drugs Ignored at Meridian Elementary School?

You would think the sky is falling with all the noise about how Gilbert Public Schools is going to the dogs because a few administrators  are leaving ahead of a new superintendent taking over the district.  We call it a clean sweep of assistant superintendents who are self-selecting for their own departures.

That’s right, all four assistant superintendents will be gone by June 30, 2014. Westie will stay on top of oversight, though, having learned how much damage these short-timers can still inflict on GPS. We recently learned about a new ton of bricks that’s about to fall on GPS, which might explain some of the so-called exodus clean sweep, along with police investigations and recent revelations of wrongdoing.

We have new information for you about one of the administrators who self-selected to skedaddle: Vicki Hester. It was fortuitous that she landed a job in the Mesa School District at just the right time … before the news hit about another police report and drugs endangering students at Meridian Elementary School. Meridian is the GPS school that Vicki Hester is leaving; she’ll be principal at Salk Elementary School in Mesa, a smaller school in a diverse community. Salk’s current principal, Dr. Karla Carlson, is retiring. Hey, lookie here: Vicki Hester finally gets the A+ School designation she so craved! Too bad someone else earned it and Vicki Hester just inherits it.

The news about drugs endangering students at Meridian Elementary School comes from a parent, who tried time and again to work with GPS top dogs and with Vicki Hester. The parent encountered the usual GPS reaction to something they didn’t want to hear: “Go ahead, file your claim!” We very helpfully attached to this post a copy of the police report and the parent’s Notice of Claim against GPS.

The Notice of Claim is a formality required by Arizona law. The process was intended to open communication and head off litigation, but GPS admins ignore Notices of Claim.  That’s not what the legislators envisioned when they wrote this law, but that’s what it  has become. Members of the Governing Board are routinely told to ignore Notices of Claim. They all go to ASRRT, The Trust, to be litigated from Day One. “We don’t want to walk all over somebody when they don’t deserve it,” Good Old Mike Tiffany said in a recent board meeting. Obviously, if someone files a Notice of Claim, The Trust  and the GPS GOBs believe that citizen truly deserves the fire and brimstone issued by the Lawyers’ Perpetual Employment Society,BS the lawyers who work for “The Trust.”

The story of what happened at Meridian Elementary School is pretty much the same old thing from the usual suspects, according to the Notice of Claim. A child brought narcotics to school, because a parent put them in a pill bottle in a lunch box. When the claimant parent discovered that 30 narcotic pills had been issued, but only one was in the bottle discovered in the lunch box after school, the claimant parent sounded the alarm with Principal Vicki Hester. For all the claimant parent knew, the child had taken the entire bottle to school without any supervision. Who knows what could have happened if the child had ‘shared’ with classmates? Being unable to contact the other parent quickly, the claimant parent called the Mesa Police and Mesa Fire Department to help determine the extent of the emergency in terms of the child’s health. Then, the claimant parent addressed the situation with Meridian Principal Vicki Hester.

The claimant parent was rightfully upset, because only days before Vicki Hester had told both parents how the narcotic drug could be administered at school, and it certainly wasn’t by letting the young student self-administer a pill from a lunch box. There was a strict procedure to be followed, involving the child’s health care provider and the school nurse. The parent was to bring the prescribed drug to the school nurse personally, not send in a bottle in a lunch box that was never delivered to the nurse. Vicki Hester told the claimant parent, “The school has a zero tolerance policy, which prohibits a child from bringing illicit drug(s) to school, so be rest assured the school will follow procedure.”

Obviously, the discovery of the pill bottle in the child’s lunch box meant the zero tolerance policy had been totally ignored by one parent. The claimant parent was not only angry, but terribly worried that Meridian students had been endangered, especially if 30 or so pills were missing. The claimant parent asked to have the entire school notified that narcotic drugs had been brought to school and lost by a child who had just begun taking the medication and was oblivious to the drug’s strength and danger. Notifying all parents could have quickly established whether other students had acquired any of the missing pills. Doing this would have made Vicki Hester look pretty bad as a principal, though. Want to guess what happened next?

The claimant parent says the other parent is “friends” with Vicki Hester, so the whole thing was swept under the rug. The parent who sounded the alarm didn’t hear from Vicki Hester, who apparently relied on assurances from the friend-of-Vicki parent rather than investigate and report. The friend-of-Vicki parent claimed two pills were in the bottle that was sent to school with the child. Vicki Hester later said it was only one pill, so nothing to see here, folks.

The parent says that with a zero tolerance policy, the student should have been expelled. This shouldn’t be so hard for the claimant parent. School principals should be able to navigate a smart course to keep both parents involved in their children’s education. The principal should be as concerned as the parent about keeping students safe while they are at school. But this is Meridian Elementary School in GPS, where policies and procedures seem to depend on who is involved.

The upset claimant parent contacted Superintendent Jack Keegan, Assistant Superintendent Shane McCord and Administrative Services Director Joyce Meyer, all of whom apparently refused to get involved or investigate or do any of the Very Important Things that they usually do in the big white district office building. Now we all know that Jack, Shane and Joyce are flying the GPS chicken coop, so it’s pretty easy to understand they didn’t want to get involved. It appears Vicki Hester just shrugged things off, giving one parent preferential treatment and giving the other parent  the cold shoulder, with the blessing of the Top Dogs. Then Vicki Hester got busy shopping around her resume just like her supervisor did, it appears.

There’s more to this story … with GOBs, there’s always more, it seems. The claimant parent describes an incident of possible sexual misconduct at Meridian that happened a few months earlier. In that case, the claimant parent involved Good Old Jack Blanchard. According to the Notice of Claim, this was swept under the rug, too. This story may hang around for a couple of years: if litigation results, there’s a process called ‘discovery’ where details get uncovered. For example, recent lawsuits uncovered how long it took Good Old Dave Allison to destroy the paper files and delete electronic files of his superintendency.

Now that GPS has Dr. Jim Rice as Interim Superintendent, maybe he’ll look into what is going to get the district sued this time.  Maybe Dr. Rice can bring some sanity and common sense into the GPS administration. Heaven knows, we’ve all been waiting for a long, long time.

Just remember, citizens of the Town of Gilbert, you could have elected Westie as Interim Superintendent! We won’t hold a grudge, though, because the GOB self-selection process occurred anyway. Bye-bye GOBs. Welcome, Breath of Spring Air, also known as Dr. Christina Kishimoto!

Gilbert Public Schools to Jack Keegan: “Hit the Road, Jack”

Former Interim Superintendent Jack Keegan just can’t stay away from Gilbert Public Schools. Birdies are chirping [loudly]  in dismay. The Good Old Boys have shown that when they hang around after announcing their intention of leaving, they have opportunities for mischief.

Now, Good Old Jack, along with his fellow cut-and-run practitioners, Assistant Superintendent Shane McCord and Athletic Director Mark Cisterna, are making decisions about which GPS jobs will be cut and how much parents will soon pay for their children to participate in GPS programs. GPS employees are really angry that three dudes who couldn’t cut the mustard are hanging around to do the Zero Based Budgeting process for the district, which won’t take effect until the 2014-2015 school year, when they’ll be long gone.

Cue the song: Hit the Road, Jack.

Hit the road Jack and don’t you come back
No more, no more, no more, no more
Hit the road Jack and don’t you come back no more

Who will be left to live with the GPS ZBB? The loyal employees who have stayed with the district through thick and thin, that’s who. For months, librarians, nurses, specials teachers and many other GPS employees have been holding their breath, waiting to find out if their jobs will be funded next year. It’s been hard on them, to say the least. What kind of reward will they reap for their loyalty? Who knows, but those dudes bragging about making the ZBB decisions (you really didn’t think those committees had any power, did you?) won’t be around when loyal GPS employees get the axe.

Good Old Jack said he would hang around and do the ZBB stuff FOR FREE.  Do you really believe he is being magnanimous after his temper tantrum didn’t have the desired effect and the board didn’t crawl around begging him to stay?  It might be as simple as it’s still cold up north, and he has a lease on his Gilbert digs for another few months … like until the end of his contract term, perhaps? After all, GPS paid him $10,000 to relocate, and if you believe GPS got their money’s worth, well, we have a bridge for sale. Nope, something is up, or else someone is still being protected. Maybe it’s both, but it sure isn’t out of the goodness of his heart that double-dipping Jack Keegan is sticking around to supervise the GPS budget process.

Many people in the Town of Gilbert and in GPS had high hopes when Dr. Jack Keegan rode in on his white horse. We hoped he would temporarily man the helm of GPS after Good Old Dave Allison got himself invited to retire had the Governing Board decline his request to stay after his contract expired in 2013. The way the timing worked out, GPS hired an interim superintendent for a year while they searched for a new Superintendent. Good Old Jack had a halo when he arrived  … mostly because he was NOT Dave Allison. Westie’s pal Keyboard had a tremendous crush on Jack Keegan, and it was very painful for her to watch his diminishment and then his temper tantrum which ended in his abrupt resignation eight months into his interimnity. Maybe Good Old Jack thought the various board members would come crawling to him, begging him to stay, during the thirty days of his notice of quitting.

It seems that Good Old Jack was drinking the GOB Kool-Aid all along. When he came to Gilbert, he touted his skills and experience as a superintendent. But after being here a short while, he was doing his best to block access to requests for public records. Then, in January 2014, he just flat-out threw one of his temper tantrums after we asked for access to some public records:

Since your request was just to review the records, you will not be allowed to photograph, scan or otherwise copy any of these documents. If you decide that you would like to have copies of the records, you will need to make a separate, written, request for which specific records you would like to have copied. Upon payment, you will be provided copies of the records you requested.

Good Old Jack helpfully sent copies of his letter to a lot of people. This must have been part of his temper tantrum: “There, I’ll show them, I’ll tell all these important people how I stiffed this impertinent request to review public records!” Copies went to Georgia Staton, Attorney; Susan Segal, Attorney; and to GPS Assistant Superintendents Clyde Dangerfield, Jeff Filloon, and Shane McCord.

There was a slight problem with Good Old Jack’s letter – he was violating Arizona Public Records laws. Yeppers, even though he had a slew of lawyers at his beck and call, Good Old Jack couldn’t get it right. Worse, just a month before Jack Keegan pulled this dumb stunt, the Attorney General of the State of Arizona issued an official Attorney General Opinion regarding A.R.S. 39-121, Inspection of Public Records. That statue has just 25 words: “Public records and other matters in the custody of any officer shall be open to inspection by any person at all times during office hours.”

The Arizona Attorney General’s Opinion states: “In the event that a member of the public seeks to inspect public records and make copies using his or her own personal device, Arizona’s public records law does not allow a public body to charge a fee.”  Maybe Jack Keegan was just trying to intimidate ordinary citizens who dared ask to see records of how GPS officials do their jobs. Transparency, Schmansparency. Of course, journalists and people considered “friends” can just come by and copy anything they want, no problem.

Wouldn’t you know it, Jack Keegan had to backtrack after we helpfully sent a copy of his temper tantrum letter to the Arizona Attorney General. Nine days later, Good Old Jack wrote to us again:

As a reminder from my previous letter, since your request was to review material, it will be necessary that if you decide you wish copies of material that you submit another FOIA request identifying specifically the material you wish to obtain a copy of. [sic]

This time, Good Old Jack copied three attorneys: Susan Segal, Georgia Staton and Liz Gilbert, in addition to the newest member of the GPS Community Relations staff. Notice that Jack Keegan didn’t let his assistant superintendents know that he had to eat crow. It’s long past time to hit the road, Jack. Take your silly syntax with you.

All you citizens who want to review GPS records, be sure to write “review and scan or otherwise copy” in your request. Save yourself the extra step and needless delay of submitting another FOIA request to actually receive a copy of the records you are reviewing. You’re welcome!

High-Tailing It Out of Town Before the Law Comes Calling?

Gilbert Public Schools is getting a clean sweep of Good Old Boys from the superintendency right in time for Dr. Kishimoto’s grand entrance. We’re hearing lots of speculation about some mass exodus from GPS, but that’s not what’s happening. It looks like some members of the superintendency are skipping out to avoid getting caught with their hands in the cookie jar.*

Some folks are moaning and groaning and gnashing their teeth over the retirements and resignations in GPS that are becoming known. “It’s all the fault of the Governing Board,” they cry with crocodile tears.  “It’s the Governing Board’s fault the 2012 and 2013 overrides didn’t pass, now GPS has to reduce expenditures by millions of dollars,” they wail. Some folks in cushy district jobs have well-founded fears that their jobs won’t exist next year, so some have already announced they’re jumping ship. Unfortunately for many of those folks, they might have to start working a lot more, without getting all the vacation days their contracts allow, PLUS all the district holidays like Fall Break, Winter Break and Spring Break, to name a few benefits regular GPS employees don’t get. If you have all that time off, you can save your paid vacation and sick days until you’re ready to leave, and take a few months off while receiving full health benefits and racking up some extra retirement points, right, Community Relations Director Dianne Bowers?

Here’s some background information about why some top-level administrators are resigning from GPS right now. Mostly, it’s the season: administrators who want to leave generally turn in notice of resignation or retirement before contracts are issued each year, which occurs in early spring (March-April). The same thing is happening in every school district in the state, because state law drives this bus.  Administrators in other school districts are watching for opportunities, such as the positions that will be open in GPS – those same candidates will have to give notice to their current employer within the same window.  Really, it’s all just a game of musical chairs. The best thing we can do is watch it all play out as Dr. Kishimoto builds a new leadership team for GPS.

We’ve been posting about the $2 Million loss that the Gilbert Police Department is investigating. A lot of new information should become available to the public in due time. Yes, we’re as impatient as anyone, but we’ve invested a lot of time in sleuthing through some 20,000 documents in one court case, and scads of depositions with 43,000 pages of evidence related to the failed GPS effort to sue CrossPointe. We’ve managed to connect a lot of dots, that’s for sure. We like to share what we learn, too.

For the folks who think we’ve got inside information … you’re right! We’ve been posting a lot of information about administrative contracts and the greed at the top. We posted in December 2013 about goodies in Shane McCord’s 2012-2013 contract, which included a so-called special project for which the superintendent could authorize payment of $2,000.  Jeff Filloon got the same good deal. Both assistant superintendents were paid this stipend through their contract term, beginning in July 2012 and continuing through June 2013. Then they both did it again in 2013-2014!

$2,000 + $2,000 + $2,000 + $2,000 = $8,000 = Red Flag of Fraud
Shane McCord: $2,000 school year 2012-2013         Jeff Filloon: $2,000 school year 2012-2013
Shane McCord: $2,000 school year 2013-2014         Jeff Filloon: $2,000 school year 2013-2014

Dave Allison signed almost identical Payment for Work forms for McCord and FilloonOddly, the date of the form, April 4, 2012, is the same date on the Completion of Additional Work Responsibilities part of the form, which says the work “will be satisfactorily completed on 6-30-12.” No one signed the authorization “Final and total payment is due.” Now that could be just a typo or a clerical error, don’t you think? Well, this is GPS, and it’s business as usual for the GOBs, so let’s look a little deeper. You can guess what happened.

Jeff Filloon wrote a note to Dave Allison saying he would be working on his dissertation project of “What motivates employees during a recession.” That was his special project worth $2,000 that ordinary GPS employees can’t get. There was a report to Dr. Allison from Jeff Filloon dated May 12, 2013 that reported on data gathered by the GPS Employee Exit Interview, which was just a form with 6 questions to rate from “5 Strongly Agree” to “1 Strongly Disagree” that 135 employees filled out. There was nothing about taking that information and implementing changes into GPS for the purpose of improving employee morale, as Jeff Filloon’s memo said he would do.

Funny thing about requesting public records: GPS has a history of resisting disclosure of just about anything, and when they do  let go of documents, sometimes you just stare in amazement at the gems of information you find. We requested copies of the Superintendent’s Memos to the Governing Board; in August 2012, Dave Allison wrote, “The Human Resources Department conducted written exit interviews with all certified employees who left during the 2011-2012 school year.” It looks like the questions were the same as on the survey that Jeff Filloon provided as proof for his Payment for Additional Work in 2013. Connect the dots and you have … Jeff Filloon submitted a survey routinely done by HR as his special project.

Now let’s see what Jeff’s buddy Shane McCord did to earn his special project stipend. Shane wrote a memo to Dave that he was going to study “the relationship that exists between regular attendance and achievement on standardized tests.” Shane McCord submitted a research proposal to Northern Arizona University for the same study of 10th grade students, surveying students around the state using “the probabilistic approach.” Shane helpfully attached dated April 2014 a copy of the letter he sent to “Dear 10th grade student”; in the body of the letter, he asked to return the completed study to him by July 2009. Oooopsie!

A big problem for Shane McCord is that he identified himself as a doctoral student in the Educational Leadership program at Northern Arizona University, NOT as an assistant superintendent in Gilbert Public Schools. Here’s another ooopsie: “The information provided in this survey is confidential information and will be used only by me for the purpose of completing my dissertation.”  So what are the chances that Shane McCord actually sent out this survey and letter as his $2,000 special project in 2012-2013???

For 2013-2014, Shane McCord submitted an Employee Action Request for a special project: “Request $2,000 stipend, per contract, for implementing a special project relating to employee betterment.” He signed a memo stating it was a continuation of the project he had been working on since the 2012-2013 school year. No one signed the form, but Jeff Filloon initialed it for approval. Shane McCord submitted a memo titled, “Stipend for Additional Projects.”

Jeff Filloon submitted an EAR with wording identical to Shane McCord’s form in the remarks section for 2013-2014. Jeff Filloon signed the form as the employee and as the approving administrator, in addition to initialing as the Human Resources Assistant Superintendent. He wrote a memo to Dave Allison  that was almost identical to the memo he wrote the previous year.

WHAT DID INTERIM SUPERINTENDENT JACK KEEGAN KNOW ABOUT THIS SCHEME? Is that part of the reason that Jack Keegan scampered out of his one-year job several months early? We will connect more dots for you soon.

BOTTOM LINE: When you get paid by a government entity funded by taxpayer dollars, and you take money without doing the work you have been paid to do, that’s what people call FRAUD. It’s amazing that it became so open and obvious that citizens could amass evidence through public records requests. Hey, wait a minute! That’s why public records laws are passed! HAPPY SUNSHINE WEEK, GPS!


Big Fat Asterisk: *As for the aforesaid caught with hands in the cookie jar, the evidence was in public records released by GPS. Those assistant superintendents were giving themselves all kinds of good deals during the years that other GPS employees lived through pay freezes and net income reductions due to higher insurance and retirement costs. Support staff saw the loss of a one-year stipend, a bad bet made worse by Good Old Dave Allison’s calculated move tied to the failed override. Now you know: GOBs are feeding the frenzy against the board so they can slink out without being noticed. BTW, Good Old Clyde Dangerfield was offered the same special project bonus, but he didn’t sign up for the sham deal.

Good Old Boys Are Proud of Destroying Public Records

We’re continuing to delve into possible criminal conduct in Gilbert Public Schools.  We started with what little information has been made public: $2 Million is not available for educating GPS students. We wondered why Jill Humpherys and Lily Tram are keeping the public in the dark and objecting to a police investigation about what happened to a GPS server that housed Electronically Stored Information (ESI) that was part of the public record that the GPS board is charged with preserving. The stars are aligning and the dots are connecting, and it doesn’t bode well for the Good Old Boys of GPS. 

Jill Humpherys came to the March 11, 2014 board meeting armed with ten written questions and she demanded that no one interrupt her until she was finished reading them.  Staci Burk answered each of the questions, but she was interrupted by Jill Humpherys several times. The gist was that $2 Million has been taken out of the GPS budget instead of going to the classroom, where it would have made a significant impact on student learning. The board’s previous attorney expressed concern that ASRRT, The Trust, would not pay if the loss was due to criminal acts. If it wasn’t criminal, the board can collect from ASRRT, The Trust, as on any other insured loss. The letter was written by the board president and legal counsel.

Jill Humpherys claimed that the week before, Lily Tram asked for an executive session to discuss the matter of an internal investigation conducted by a well-qualified former prosecutor. She said Lily Tram had questions about spending so much money on an hourly basis, and that was not fiscally sound. Jill Humpherys said, “This is unfair to some of the individuals involved and the district. Yes, some mistakes were made, action has already been taken, and there is no criminality involved. This letter is superfluous.”

This matter has been before the County Attorney and the FBI, according to discussion on the dais. Apparently, the Gilbert Police Department wants to know why something this serious was addressed by an internal investigation instead of being turned over to the police. Destroying public records is a felony, as we have discussed before. Although Jill Humpherys is now saying, “Mistakes were made,” we have been collecting lots of evidence that destroying public records was intentional and habitual. GOBs didn’t want the public to know what was being done behind closed GPS doors [sorry about the image that evoked...have some brain bleach].

It just happens that we have an email from Gilbert Public Schools that confirms Dave Allison’s emails and Superintendent Cabinet Minutes were destroyed. In addition to being crucial evidence in a pending lawsuit, those records were the subject of a public records request. The date is August 26, 2013. The request asked to review a five bullet point list of records. The last two bullet points were:

– review in electronic format all emails to and from Superintendent Dave Allison from February 1, 2011 through June 30, 2012

review minutes or other notes from the meetings of the Superintendent and his cabinet from July 1, 2009 through June 30, 2013

The public information office responded:

Information for the last two bullet points is not available. Dr. Allison’s email and Cabinet notes no longer exist in either paper or electronic format.

Whoo boy!  We were accustomed to being stonewalled in our requests for public records. We were not accustomed to being told the truth by Gilbert Public Schools. We had been asking for similar records in our federal lawsuit, and we were getting stonewalled there, as well, when we asked to review emails of various GPS officials in native format, meaning electronic copies of electronic documents. First, lawyers who work for ASRRT, The Trust, said that asking for emails was burdensome and harassing. Then it became obvious that the geniuses who wrote this answer did not know what they were talking about, but anyway, it’s all our fault they already destroyed the server accounts:

Objection. This request is unduly burdensome and appears to be submitted for no purpose other than to harass Defendants. Without waiving this objection, Defendants have already produced copies of all e-mails and correspondence that are in their possession. Defendants do not have the ability to retrieve the emails in their “native format” for any Defendant who is not currently employed with the District and going back and retrieving all of the e-mails which have previously been disclosed in their “native format” would cause an undue burden on Defendants without any legitimate purpose.

Plaintiffs have not specifically identified what is meant by “native format.”  To the extent that Plaintiffs mean retrieving the e-mail from the mailbox of the original sender, the District does not have the ability to retrieve emails from the mailboxes of Defendant Nikki Blanchard and Defendant Dave Allison as those mailboxes have been removed from the server and there is no “back-up” for those mailboxes. Additionally, because the District did not have a “back-up” system for e-mails, any e-mails that have been deleted from the mailbox, and not archived onto a local drive, of any individual sender, cannot be retrieved.

If would take District personnel approximately 8-10 hours per defendant to review the specific preferences utilized for the mailbox, search every file located in the current mailboxes and search all archived files to determine whether there are e-mails in “native format” that can be retrieved and actually retrieve those e-mails. If the e-mails were printed and were not maintained within the District mailbox or an archive file, the District would not be able to retrieve the e-mail in its “native format.”

Clear as mud, right? Actually, there’s another ASRRT, The Trust, lawyer who was advising GPS on ESI in the CrossPointe litigation. Good Old Brad Holm teaches at the Sandra Day O’Connor School of Law at ASU. Here’s part of a letter he signed about ESI with other lawyers across the country:

There are quite a few (over a dozen) law schools that offer eDiscovery as a stand-alone course. These courses are as varied in content as their teachers are varied in personalities. None of the eDiscovery courses we are aware of teach only document review. Also, contrary to one of the comments offered in response to your article, eDiscovery is almost always an issue in “bet the company” litigation.

These eDiscovery courses run the gamut in focus, and they cover the substantive legal issues associated with the preservation, collection, search, and production of electronically stored information. Some of the thorniest issues revolve around the duty to preserve information, spoliation sanctions, and when you hit the tipping point where responding to discovery becomes “overly burdensome.” [signatures are here]

Just to show what serious chops Good Old Brad Holms has in ESI-related issues, here’s information about a fancy conference at ASU about ESI:

The Ultimate 30(b)(6) “Free Fight” Challenge Brad Holm, Holm, Wright, Hyde & Hays | Hon. John M. Facciola (Moderator) | Niloy Ray, eDiscovery Counsel, Littler Mendelson P.C. | Tom Morrissey, Sr. Director, IT Legal Operations & eDiscovery, Purdue Pharma LP

Watch two of the country’s top eDiscovery Luchadores face off in this mock 30(b)(6). Learn tips and tricks for prepping, defending, and taking a 30(b)(6) of a corporate representative on issues relating to IT structure, document retention policies, and litigation holds.

Now, does it sound likely that Good Old Brad Holm didn’t know that it was a crime, obstruction of justice and more, when GPS GOBs destroyed a server while litigation was pending? Does it sound likely that GPS was proud of deleting emails and email boxes of named GPS Defendants in another federal lawsuit?

There’s always more with GPS: Defendants admitted destroying employment files that were required to be saved in an EEOC charge and subsequent litigationEEOC warned GPS to retain until the end of litigation all personnel records relevant to an EEOC charge filed in October 2011.  Instead, right smack-dab in the middle of the lawsuit, GPS decided to destroy records that were central to GPS’s defense. [Face palm - GPS destroyed their own defense!]  Here’s what GPS wrote in October 2013:

The Arizona Records Retention laws for the 2010-2011 school year required the District to retain those records for 2 years and 6 months. Position openings for the 2010-2011 school year began in January 2010 and ended in July 2010, consequently Defendants are no longer in possession of any documents that are responsive to this request.

We shall see if the GOBs are still so proud of themselves when the Gilbert Police Department comes calling!

What Are Jill Humpherys and Lily Tram Hiding from the Public and Police?

The Town of Gilbert is all a-buzz about possible criminal conduct in Gilbert Public Schools. Apparently, Jill Humpherys thinks an internal investigation into the Good Old Boys and their apparently criminal caper was all that was needed; she really, really wants to release that internal report so the Gilbert Police Department won’t investigate why $2 Million is not available for educating GPS students.

Read the letter to the Gilbert Police Department here.

Unfortunately for Jill Humpherys, the Gilbert Police Department said something like, “We prefer you not release the internal report, because it might hinder our investigation.” Considering how Jill always seems to do what her advisors say, it was disconcerting behavior when she pressed on against police preference. Many people noticed. Many people asked what Jill Humpherys is trying to hide, and who she is trying to protect. Knowing what we know about how internal reports prepared by ASRRT, The Trust, lawyers whitewash anything having to do with GPS administrators, we have a pretty good idea of what’s going on. We’ve been connecting more dots about all this, so we’ll share, hoping that birdies will chirp about what’s really going on in GPS.

Let’s start with the meeting of the Governing Board on January 28, 2014. Here’s an agenda item. BTW, we embedded the meeting video at the end of this post.

12.01 Call for Executive Session pursuant to A.R.S. 38-431.03 (A)(3) and (A)(4), Discussion/consultation for legal advice with the attorney/attorneys of the public body concerning the disposition of a server and documents on the server and distribution of reports pertaining thereto and to consider or instruct its attorneys regarding the public body’s position in contemplated litigation or contract negotiations or settlement discussions conducted to avoid or resolve litigation with regard to the disposition of the server and documents of the server.

Here’s what happened: Board Member Daryl Colvin says there was money going down a rat hole and he wants to have discussions in public, not in executive sessions. He wants to clean things up in Gilbert Public Schools, and he is adamant that the public know what has happened. Board President Staci Burk agrees the public has the right to know. More than $2 Million is not available for use in GPS classrooms. Board member Jill Humpherys wants to move on because she needs a break. Board member Lily Tram doesn’t agree with having the executive session, saying it’s late so she wants to go home. Jill Humpherys pipes up that she doesn’t want to discuss it at all. Staci Burk says two people have waited for hours to have this discussion in executive session. The motion passes, 3-2; Humpherys and Tram opposed. The board adjourns into executive session.

A related matter came up at the March 4, 2014 board meeting: Dr. Jack Keegan explains the purpose of new policy BDB was for the clerk to bring concerns or inconsistencies in vouchers to the board, and to add that the itemized account of vouchers will now be posted on the GPS website.  BTW, that video also is embedded at the bottom of this post. Here’s GPS Policy BDB.

Approving Policy BDB, which defines the duties of the Board President and Clerk, should have been a no-brainer for transparency in GPS financial matters. Lily Tram doesn’t like this; she wants the clerk to go to the Finance Director about concerns and inconsistencies. Lily Tram says the board should not spend time on this.

[Cover Keyboard's eyes: What The...!] 

Board President Staci Burk explains to Lily Tram that the Policy Committee wanted transparency, and wanted a policy that the board should have knowledge and awareness before voting to approve vouchers, which they approve at every board meeting. Jill supports adding into the policy that the Clerk should go to the Director of Finance first. Lily Tram says no, remove the whole bullet point. Jill Humpherys, that paragon of consistency, says she can go along with that. Superintendent Keegan steps in to explain that he thinks this new policy is good, and it’s part of a system of checks and balances. He says if the Clerk isn’t getting answers, the Clerk should go to the Superintendent. He advocates that the Clerk has to have the ability to bring concerns and inconsistencies to the board. “You are the guardian of that,” he says to the board.

Lily Tram doesn’t want checks and balances: “We have delegated that authority to the superintendent. It doesn’t need to come to the board.” Dr. Keegan explains that there have been problems in other districts, that things were hidden, and there were improprieties at the superintendent level. When that happens, it requires a board member or an independent person to bring out what has happened. Lily Tram asks if this policy is supposed to be a check on the superintendent’s ethics. Dr. Keegan says it lets everyone know there are checks and balances. Staci Burk points out the board has delegated to the Clerk the responsibility to review expense vouchers before the board votes to approve them. Lily Tram says this give the appearance that “We have issues.” Dr. Keegan supports that this policy is needed, and the board votes 4-1. Lily Tram voted Nay.

Our next post will discuss more from the special meeting of the GPS governing board on March 11, 2014 and more dots we have connected. You know you can hardly wait…

January 28 @ 1:46:45 time mark:

March 4 @ 1:38:44 time mark:

Criminal Conduct in Gilbert Public Schools?

The GPS Good Old Boys’ network is shattering. GOBs are running for the hills. You didn’t think Barb VeNard’s abrupt departure was a spur-of-the-moment decision, did you? We’re scratching our heads that Good Old Clyde Dangerfield announced his retirement at the beginning of the school year, giving himself a year to cover his tracks. Like that really worked out well for Good Old Dave Allison. <snarky sarcasm>

There was a special meeting of the GPS Governing Board on March 11, 2014 to approve a new contract for a new Interim Superintendent, Dr. Jim Rice. There was this nugget of information, too:

It is recommended that the Governing Board approve the attached letter and authorization requesting that the Gilbert Police Department investigate the alleged destruction of a large volume of public records which occurred on or around May 2011.

This letter shall serve as formal Board approval to consent to a search of and access to District property by the Gilbert Police Department including but not limited to network systems, hard drive, data storage, servers, etc. to ensure that the authorities are able to conduct a comprehensive investigation.

Board President Staci Burk explained this letter would make it unnecessary for the Gilbert Police Department to get subpoenas and search warrants when investigating the complaint that has been filed. Apparently, this is a step toward filing an insurance claim with the Arizona Schools Risk Retention Trust to recoup $2Million  for GPS. Interestingly, just a few weeks ago, Mike Tiffany made a presentation at a GPS board meeting, and some pointed questions were put to the dude from ASRRT, The Trust:

“What if our own employee created a significant loss? Can ASRRT reimburse Gilbert Public Schools for the loss?” A GPS employee acted with negligence.  Board members don’t think the community should suffer. Mike Tiffany pointed out The Trust covers employees, too.

Long story short: the board voted 3-1 to send the letter to speed up the police investigation into what happened to make the district lose $2Million. Jill Humpherys voted against. Lily Tram missed the meeting. Why was sending this letter controversial at all?

It used to be that $2Million was a drop in the bucket to GPS GOBs – they had big technology override funding and a lot of pals to help them spend their money. This 2007 technology override, for $57.4Million, was a separate pot of taxpayer money for GPS.  It was earmarked to purchase computers for students and give them access to the internet. A former board member had this to say about the technology override money management:

What we received on that investment as far as we can tell is -only- access to the internet…  albeit, excellent, high quality, access to the internet purchased through a new vendor, Hewlett Packard. Barb VeNard, director of educational services and technology at Gilbert Public Schools, according to the Arizona Republic who obtained copies of the emails through a public records request, sent emails to her husband Jim VeNard, who has been a long time salesman of HP products. These emails allegedly forward inside information about the Cisco price quote during the negotiations of the deal. According to Barb VeNard, there was not a sweetheart deal and instead a pair of independent consultants were hired that recommended the deal to the governing board. According to the Arizona Republic, “In mid-summer, she hired for $3,000 a family friend to act as a  consultant, Mike Weaver, and an assistant, Ravi Achanta, to compare the networks  in price and quality. The men work for in Tempe but were acting as independent consultants.”  According to these sources, Ms. VeNard hired a family friend to recommend the deal to the board, after she had sent inside cost information to her husband’s email.

The technology deal that smelled to high heaven was a 2009 gig, so that HP deal must not be what’s behind a $2Million loss of GPS tax money. Revisiting the board meeting with the ASRRT presentation, we found clues that we had unearthed in earlier posts and connected some dots to figure out:

A big problem for taxpayers was that Clyde didn’t read the CrossPointe contract he advised the board to sign, and later, when there was a question, well … let’s just say our boy had to admit he hadn’t read it. Staff had begged Clyde to read the contract before it went to the governing board, which was expecting something really different than what the contract said. GPS was flush with lots of taxpayer money from a technology override, and for some reason or another, someone wanted to give a contract to a different company … perhaps to extricate Clyde from his dilemma of not reading the CrossPointe contract?

Things seem to be coming around in a circle as the dots line up. We reviewed the RFPs and contracts for CrossPointe in the GPS Purchasing Department in July 2013. We asked for deposition records in the GPS v CrossPointe lawsuit a few months later; GPS told us to pound sand, those depositions were not relevant to our lawsuit, they claimed. We got the deposition records from another source, and lo and behold … they were exceedingly relevant in ways we had not anticipated. We posted about some of our discoveries a while back. We discovered an email that showed Assistant Superintendent Clyde Dangerfield, Esquire did not read the contract, although IT staffer Jean Holte urged him to wade into the weeds on some fine points related to this $1.7Million contract. Clyde said he doesn’t have time to read everything that crosses his desk. Jean didn’t have a job after February 2010, according to Superintendent Cabinet Minutes we received through a public records request.

In June 2010, GPS contracted with Infinite Campus for $1.2Million for replacement student information system software. Somewhere in this saga is the $2Million loss that the Governing Board wants to recoup. The first GPS effort to recoup was a lawsuit, which attorney Brad Holm of Holm, Wright, Hyde and Hays bragged in January 2011 would be a slam dunk win in a short time. We know that didn’t work out so well for GPS. We have wondered, as have many of you loyal viewers, what happened to change the rosy outlook and cause GPS to suddenly settle in mediation.

Circle back to the agenda quoted above: “alleged destruction of a large volume of public records which occurred on or around May 2011.” The date is significant because GPS was smack in the middle of a lawsuit GPS filed. Whatever those public records were, it’s pretty obvious they were related to the lawsuit in federal court. We’re getting closer to an answer about why GPS suddenly settled the lawsuit with no money changing hands. We’ve heard rumors that GPS lost at least $500,000 in costs incurred during that lawsuit. Maybe that’s how we get to $2Million dollars … the $1.7Million GPS paid for software, and the costs of the lawsuit.

GPS funded the lawsuit with taxpayer dollars that were earmarked for educating students. ASRRT, The Trust, doesn’t kick in to pay legal expenses for prosecuting a lawsuit; they pay only to defend lawsuits filed against the district. So what’s the criminality in destroying a large volume of public records? Here it is in a couple of state laws:

ARS 13-2407. Tampering with a public record; classification

A. A person commits tampering with a public record if, with the intent to defraud or deceive, such person knowingly:
4. Destroys, mutilates, conceals, removes or otherwise impairs the availability of any public record;
B. In this section “public record” means all official books, papers, written instruments or records created, issued, received or kept by any governmental office or agency or required by law to be kept by others for the information of the government.
C. Tampering with a public record is a class 6 felony.

ARS 13-2809. Tampering with physical evidence; classification

A. A person commits tampering with physical evidence if, with intent that it be used, introduced, rejected or unavailable in an official proceeding which is then pending or which such person knows is about to be instituted, such person:
1. Destroys, mutilates, alters, conceals or removes physical evidence with the intent to impair its verity or availability; or
2. Knowingly makes, produces or offers any false physical evidence; or
3. Prevents the production of physical evidence by an act of force, intimidation or deception against any person.
B. Inadmissibility of the evidence in question is not a defense.
C. Tampering with physical evidence is a class 6 felony.

 ARS 38-421. Stealing, destroying, altering or secreting public record; classification

A. An officer having custody of any record, map or book, or of any paper or proceeding of any court, filed or deposited in any public office, or placed in his hands for any purpose, who steals, or knowingly and without lawful authority destroys, mutilates, defaces, alters, falsifies, removes or secretes the whole or any part thereof, or who permits any other person so to do, is guilty of a class 4 felony.

The question we all have to ask: why did Jill Humpherys vote against sending the letter to the Gilbert Police Department? Is she protecting the Good Old Boys? Doesn’t she care that millions of taxpayer dollars are at stake, dollars that should have been spent in the classroom, educating students? How can Jill Humpherys square her vote against the investigation with her fiduciary duty to taxpayers, citizens and students? There will be more to this story, folks.

What Gilbert Public Schools Doesn't Want You to Know
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