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.

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