Monday, August 29, 2011

SAN DIEGO CHARTER SCHOOL PRINCIPAL SPENT MONEY ON WINE, DOG TREATS: Are charters waived from California alcoholic beverage ban?

Explorer Elementary Charter is a  California Distinguished School  and a partner of High Tech High

Written by Ashly McGlone - San Diego Union Tribune/Sign On san Diego + vIdeo from ABC10 News|

10:08 a.m., Aug. 27, 2011POINT LOMA — The founding principal of Explorer Elementary Charter School spent thousands of dollars on business meals, wine and dog treats over the last two years, expenses on her credit card that were covered by taxpayers.

The Watchdog obtained two years of statements and expense reports under the California Public Records Act for former Principal Jill Green, who resigned April 27.

Jill Green, former Director of Explorer Elementary

Green, who earned $110,277 annually, said concerns over her expenses were raised by the charter’s governing board before her resignation, and she maintains none of the charges were for personal use. The Watchdog totaled her expenses of $37,868 from April 2009 through March 2011.

Jill Green, former Director of Explorer Elementary >>

Some $14,896 was spent on food, with an average meal bill of $78.40. Receipts for many of the meals indicate the purchase was for a staff lunch or board member meeting, and some cited hospitality or professional development.

She spent about $3,317 on gift cards and flowers for employees and others. The state Constitution bans gifts of public funds. Green purchased 31 gifts in the last two years, 17 of which were valued at more than $100.

Jill Green, former Director of Explorer Elementary

<< Trader Joes receipt shows $14.08 in dog treat purchases.|

An additional $727 was spent on wine, often accompanying dinner. A $500 outing to Wine Steals in Point Loma on the last day of school in 2009 included $198 for 12 bottles of wine, plus one glass.

Green spent $450 on treats and toys for her dog Gus, who frequently visited the school. The remaining expenses include school fittings, such as cubbies and classroom rugs, and phone bills, which in 2010 cost $263 for two phone lines on a family plan.

“Business lunches/dinners and providing food for faculty, staff and board events have traditionally been part of my job as principal,” Green said in a statement. “I was never told by anyone that this was wrong or a misuse of funds, and in fact I felt (and it was said or implied by the board for all the years prior to 2011) that this was an integral part of my job as ‘CEO’ of the school.”

While Explorer Elementary is a part of San Diego Unified and submits annual budgets to the district, the finances are handled through a partnership with the San Diego-based High Tech High charter system. High Tech High’s credit card agreement, signed by Green, bans alcohol and gift card purchases for employees, but permits meal purchases within professional development groups or those charged out of business necessity.

Jill Green, former Director of Explorer Elementary

|Receipt from Wine Steals shows $197.88 in alcohol purchases. >>

Kay McElrath, chief financial officer for High Tech High, signed off on Green’s expenses and declined to comment when contacted by The Watchdog.

Vicky Waters, spokeswoman for the Sacramento-based California Charter School Association, says charter schools are held accountable.

“The fact that charter schools have flexibility and autonomy should not be misinterpreted to mean lax fiscal oversight,” Waters said. “There are sufficient requirements in place which provide charter schools and their governing bodies an ability to ensure public dollars, and more importantly the public’s trust, are appropriately protected.”

In June, the Explorer school’s board strengthened its expense policies, and board Chairwoman Margaret Egler said the board treasurer will now review the principal’s expenditures on a quarterly basis.

The Center for Education Reform, a charter school advocacy group in Washington D.C., this year ranked California’s charter law as third in the nation in terms of charter funding and independence.

While alcohol purchases by public schools are banned under state law, charter schools operate under a “mega-waiver,” exempting them from most state laws governing public schools in the California Education Code. They are bound by the Charter Schools Act, which does not address alcohol purchases.

“Business dinners often included wine both for me and whomever I was dining with, which was appropriate under the circumstances of these meetings,” Green said. “The restaurant venues were mid-range, respectable restaurants that are appropriate for business dinners, not high end restaurants and not bars or other inappropriate venues.”

Restaurants included Bencotto Italian Kitchen, Pizza Nova and the Come On In! Cafe.

Green signed a separation agreement in late April, awarding her $59,000 in salary payments through Oct. 28 and other compensation. Board members did not disclose the agreement right away, leading parent Alison Patton to raise questions about open-meetings law compliance.

“Prior to the ratification by the board on June 7, 2011, the agreement was not a public document and was not subject to disclosure under the Brown Act or any other statute,” Andrea Sexton, the school’s attorney, wrote on Aug. 10 in response to Patton.

One trustee, Tiveeda Stovall, resigned from her post at the June board meeting, saying she was not sure if the board appropriately reported out its action from closed meetings held before Green’s departure. Stovall could not be reached for comment.

While the school has not laid off employees in recent years due to budget constraints, it opted not to fill two administrator positions, a part-time librarian and gardener position when the positions were vacated.

Founded in 2000, Explorer Elementary Charter School has been recognized as a California Distinguished School by the California Department of Education and serves 340 students in kindergarten through fifth grade. Twenty-five teachers are employed at the school, which emphasizes social and emotional intelligence. More than 1,200 students are typically on the wait list, according to Green, who was awarded a $10,000 performance bonus by trustees in December.


Documents »

Download: Explorer Elementary: Receipts, Green statement, severance agreement, credit card policies
Green’s expenses

Food: $14,896.10

Supplies: $12,834.38

Gifts: $3,317.00

Other: $2,821.81

Field trips: $1,951.00

Phone: $870.14

Wine: $727.38

Pet items: $449.82

Total: $37,867.63

Documents »

Download: Spreadsheet of Expenses

Documents » Citations

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