Sweetheart Paydays for Christina Kishimoto’s Favored Employees

GPS taxpayers have been asking for almost two years about the big bonus that former superintendent Christina Kishimoto allegedly gave to her subordinate who *allegedly* engaged in an inappropriate relationship with her. Westie has been on the hunt, too, but GPS has been bound and determined to NOT give out any information about taxpayer money Christina Kishimoto may have given to Steve Smith, the former GPS former Director of Technology, under the table. The stock reply after GPS turned over evidence of paydays for other GPS employees while adamantly refusing to produce public records for Steve Smith’s sweet(heart) paydays: “All legally disclosable documents within the scope of your request have been provided to you.”* 

With birdies chirping about wedding bells for Christina Kishimoto and Steve Smith in advance of her move to Hawaii, Westie decided to look at how much taxpayer money may have been used to buy Christina Kishimoto a new husband after she kicked her disabled husband to the curb in 2015. We figured the so-called bonuses that were lavished on Steve Smith between the time of Christina Kishimoto’s divorce in July 2015 and Sleazy Steve’s hurried departure from GPS in January 2016 would fill the bill. As always, Westie loves to share.

From the public records that GPS produced in July 2017, Westie connected the dots to figure that Steve Smith’s *alleged* inappropriate relationship with Christina Kishimoto appears to have netted him something like $20,000.00. That’s just traceable income, which most likely was not reported to the IRS tax man. That’s not counting the lavish trips that Sleazy Steve took with  at the same time, same place as Christina Kishimoto, all at taxpayer expense.

Westie had previously connected the dots to a collusion of silence in GPS: Sleazy Steve Smith received a hefty bonus in the form of unapproved promotions and a reduction in the number of days he was required to work for his salary. In other words, the 10-day reduction in his contract days boosted the amount of money that GPS paid him per day. That daily rate of pay becomes important for GPS Top Dogs in various fraudulent schemes that increase the amount of money they take home each year. Elevating an employee’s title to *Executive* also could make that Chosen One eligible for many more days of paid vacation, which GPS Top Dogs regularly cash in for full daily rates, something that lowly teachers and even lowlier support staffers are not allowed to do. It’s all in their Top Dog contracts.

The case of Sleazy Steve Smith’s raises have been discussed in detail in previous Westie posts:

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 Nickel, who was similarly elevated, according to the same 2015-2016 GPS organizational chart. … 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.

Did you notice that cute difference between Sleazy Steve’s *official* title on his contracts and what he put in his LinkedIn resume? Recall that GPS denied that Jeremy Betts’ LinkedIn resume reflected what was in his personnel file … when it appeared that the hanky-panky about his sweet consulting deal for doing the same thing he did as a GPS employee would become an issue for Westie’s watchdog reports. Even though GPS refuses to produce Sleazy Steve’s pay records, Westie was able to acquire copies of his contracts a long time ago; that’s most likely because Westie wasn’t the only citizen filing FOIA requests for those documents.

By examining Beth Nickel’s pay records, we are able to connect the dots to see how Sleazy Steve Smith’s sweetheart raises and bonuses slid through a corrupt payroll machine. Nickel held the position of Director of Curriculum; she briefly acted as Chief Academic Officer when Kishimoto’s first pick for that slot was rejected by the board on May 27, 2014. Here’s a nugget of GPS history: when Sleazy Steve applied for a job with GPS in the summer of 2014, the position he sought was classroom teacher. His job before joining GPS: classroom teacher. Apparently he was elevated to the Director of Technology job as soon as Christina Kishimoto laid eyes on him  interviewed him, at a salary of $95,598.00.

Nickel received a *differential* raise to $75,144.00 in August 2014, limited to the 2014-2015 school year. But lookie what else happened: on January 26, 2015, she was awarded ANOTHER pay increase, this one retroactive to earlier in the month, approved by Christina Kishimoto. Beth was paid $18,262.66 MORE that school year, for some purpose. In August 2015, Nickel’s salary as *Director of Curriculum* became $92,820.00 for 237 days of work. The dots connect to show that Nickel’s promotions and raises, with the same ersatz title of *Executive Director* on the GPS organizational chart as Sleazy Steve Smith, line up with details about Sleazy Steve’s bonus arrangement described in the infamous *anonymous letter* that roiled the district when Kishimoto’s *alleged* inappropriate relationship became public knowledge.

Beth Nickel was the apparent *beard* hiding Christina Kishimoto’s gifts of public funds to Sleazy Steve Smith. Nickel’s brief financial windfall was cancelled shortly after the gig was up in January 2016 on the Kishimoto-Smith *alleged* inappropriate relationship. In February 2016, Nickel was demoted to a coordinator position and her salary was diminished by more than $14,000.00.

No wonder GPS won’t produce Sleazy Steve’s pay records! Unfortunately, the new board, which Westie hoped would bring a breath of fresh air into the district, has become complicit in the cover-up by refusing to produce requested public records as Arizona law requires. Sad.

You know there are more dots that are connected to these GPS abuses of public funds and public trust … stay tuned!

*Big Fat Asterisk: 

Any hope that the newest GPS board president, Sheila Rogers, would usher in an era of transparency have been dashed. She was fully aware that GPS refused to produce Steve Smith’s W-2 forms for 2015 and then again for 2016, thanks to Westie’s usual procedure of keeping the board president informed of public records requests by email. That procedure has been necessary because GPS has *lost* Westie’s requests and racked up quite a large score in refusing to produce public records for various and nefarious reasons. What’s a member of the public going to do, sue the district for those records? Alas, that didn’t do much to bring sunshine into GPS administration, because the interim superintendent decided to continue fighting a losing battle by throwing up roadblocks to public access of public records before he scurried away in ignominy much like Christina Kishimoto did from Hartford, CT and Gilbert, AZ.

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