Feb 052016
 

letter

An Open Letter To The School Board

Gentlemen:

We are all anxiously looking forward to Superintendent Mark Porter’s report at next Tuesday’s Board meeting regarding the missing $20,000 in the daycare operation at HOB School. This is Superintendent Porter’s third try at determining what went wrong and who was responsible. They say that three times is a charm and we all expect a thorough, detailed and comprehensive exposition, the final word on the subject.

I am particularly interested in the first paragraph of the report when Superintendent Porter reveals who discovered that $20,000 was missing and reported it to the District Office. I am reminded of Sen. Howard Baker (R-TN) of Watergate fame who coined the oft-repeated phrase of “Who knew what and when did they know it?”

CFO James Drake told the Audit and Finance Committee in an “oh, by the way” moment after the close of the October, 2015 meeting that $20,000 was missing from the till at the HOB daycare operation. The CFO told the group that HOB Principal Mike Henriquez discovered the financial irregularity in November, 2014 and reported it to the District Office. Drake was not entirely clear as to whom Henriquez reported the problem nor did he say when he learned of the $20,000 shortfall. Regardless, the media has also reported that Henriquez discovered and informed his superiors in November, 2014 that $20,000 was missing.

If Henriquez discovered the problem and reported it promptly in November, 2014, he might theoretically be one of the “heroes” in this sad tale of mismanagement. That possibility intrigued me and I was very curious to learn what did Henriquez know and when did he know it.

Searching for answers to those questions, I sent Superintendent Porter a Public Records Request on January 4, 2016. I was requesting a copy of the email from November, 2014 when Principal Henriquez alerted his superiors of the missing $20,000 and what response(s) he may have received. I was working on the assumption that something as important as the possible theft of $20,000 would warrant a written communication to the District Office, that a casual phone conversation would be insufficient. I was also very curious as to how Henriquez addressed and explained the shortfall and I was equally curious as to what sort of response he received from his superiors.

One of Superintendent Porter’s strong suits is not responding timely to Public Records Requests. On one occasion, I sued the District and others have as well. Given his reluctance to share documents even when required by law, I reminded him each week for the next three weeks that I had requested and expected copies of the electronic communications between Principal Henriquez and the Superintendent’s office.

Finally, on January 20, 2016, I received a communication from Karen Hladik, the Superintendent’s point person on Public Records Requests, that included copies of eight emails between December 9, 2014 and December 11, 2014. Two of these emails were an exchange between Principal Henriquez and Austin Tran of the Finance Department and the others were between Assistant Principal Steve Vinson and Pansy Wang of the Finance Department. (Copies can be provided on request.)

Only one email was initiated by Principal Henriquez and that was on Wednesday, December 10, 2014, shortly before everyone broke for Christmas vacation, when he asked Austin Tran “Why was the salary expense so high in October?” Tran had sent Henriquez the “HOB Daycare Financial Report As of October 2014” with a request that Henriquez review the document. After he did that, Henriquez’s sole concern was why salary expenses were high, not that it looked to him that money, perhaps as much as $20,000, was unaccounted for. Assistant Principal Vinson believed that finances were just fine as the daycare operation “makes money this year…”, not that the operation was, in fact, either losing money or the victim of fraud or theft.

I went looking for a “smoking gun” and found a dud firecracker. I was very disappointed in what I received and complained to Ms. Hladik the same day that “the documents that you sent do not comply with my request. I had asked for communications between Principal Mike Henriquez and the District Office in which Mr. Henriquez notified his superiors that there were problems with the HOB daycare center finances. None of what you sent falls into this category.” While I said nothing to Ms. Hladik, I was also concerned that what I was sent came from December, 2014, not November, 2014 the date I and the general public were given to believe that the expose began.

Ms. Hladik curtly responded the following day, January 21, 2016, stating that the solitary email regarding salaries from Henriquez to Tran “in fact…triggered the MCSD Finance Department’s query into the HOB Daycare financial records.” To say that I was confused by that response was an understatement.

For example, I wondered what “query”? We all know that the Finance Department took two months to pull the trigger and launch an “investigation” in February, 2015. Were the “query” and the “investigation” one and the same thing or were they different? And, more importantly, why would a simple question about salaries “trigger” any kind of query or investigation? It did not make sense to me then and it does not make sense to me now.

What I was looking for and did not find was an email from Principal Mike Henriquez to the CFO, the Superintendent or both stating that “I have discovered that $20,000 is missing from the funds at the HOB daycare operation” or similar words. I was in effect told that no such email(s), let alone any response(s), existed.

Given the foregoing, I think that you can understand why I am so anxious to hear Superintendent Porter’s report as to “who knew what and when did they know it”. Who discovered that $20,000 was missing from the daycare operation and when was that discovery made? Equally, if not more important, who was informed of that discovery, when were they informed and how did they respond to that information?

Since it was not HOB Principal Mike Henriquez who raised the alarm, then who was it? If Henriquez is not one of the “good guys” in this tale of woe, is he one of the “bad guys”? Has he gone from hero to villain? For that matter, are there any “good guys” or just “bad guys”?

I cannot believe that Superintendent Porter would mislead me, let alone lie to me in response to my Public Records Request. I cannot imagine that CFO Drake would misreport to your Audit & Finance Committee. Something clearly is amiss. Consequently, I cannot wait to hear what the Superintendent” investigation determined as to who discovered that $20,000 was missing since it was not Henriquez and what did he/she do after the discovery? Stay tuned.

Larry Murray

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Dr. Larry Murray
A former 60's hippie with a strong belief in capitalism, Dr. Murray obtained his Ph.D. in American History in 1970 and went on to, in his own words, ‘publish and perish,’ teaching at colleges and universities while publishing in professional journals.

Now Dr. Murray is a tireless community activist, focusing primarily on the administration of the public schools in Monroe County. Hands down, Larry has made more public records requests to the school district than anyone else – ever - something he describes as “the equivalent of pulling teeth” or, as some have put it, "herding cats".

Pushing for the best schools possible, he pokes and prods, urging the School District, as often as not, to simply follow its own rules and regulations, not do something unique and different.

More Articles by Larry Murray .

More Articles by Larry Murray prior to November, 2014.
 February 5, 2016  Posted by at 1:22 am Dr. Larry Murray, Issue #152, Letter to the Editor  Add comments

  One Response to “Who Knew What and When Did They Know It?”

  1. That is great Dr. Larry, I love the work you did and the story about it. Lots of material for my mystery. I wait anxiously with you for Porter’s, Portered report. Martha