Saturday, June 09, 2007

CCSD: Everybody Else Does It

What part of "kickbacks" does Don Kennedy, CCSD's financial officer, not understand? Apparently, he never met a kickback he didn't like.

Part of the P & C's campaign to return to the good graces of CCSD (and probably Joe Riley) is a front-page followup on the solicited funds that paid for Goodloe's farewell party.

According to Kennedy, "Companies that win major contracts with the Charleston County School District have been subject to requests from district officials for donations for school-related activities for years. Vendors for the district could be asked for donations several times in a school year." Kennedy goes on to extol the benefits of those contributions to the school community.

This story gets better, though. Kennedy admits that CCSD "doesn't have records . . . and no one monitors the requests or donation receipts." So, as I understand it, this is "off the books" money? Does anyone wonder how much is involved besides me?

Either quite naive or disingenuous, Kennedy claims that "donations play no role in whether the companies win lucrative contracts." He also defends the practice by saying that it "preceded his working with the district" and isn't "'unique to Charleston County.'"

An important question for SMG Chairman Bill Wiseman, whose firm contributed and has $241.5 million in contracts with CCSD, was NOT asked (or at least not reported): how or if SMG reports such contributions in its income tax returns. Needless to say, Wiseman "did not see the donations as a conflict." In fact, he's quoted as saying that :the only time the company avoids giving money is when a contract is pending." Right. When a contract is pending, CCSD can't remember if SMG has ever contributed to the district.

The comments solicited from district officials in Berkeley County and Dorchester District 2 reveal another can of worms, folks. While Berkeley claims not to solicit on a regular basis, it also doesn't know who's given what to whom. Dorchester District 2 says it "doesn't pay attention" to contracts when "soliciting partnerships or resources." The article did not clarify the attitude of its business manager, Allyson Duke, on the practice of donations, but she apparently does not have records of them.

The most egregious example of a kickback is the $6000 to CCSD from SSC Service Solutions, more than 10 times the amount provided by the other two contractors. Don Kennedy and its spokesman, Bill Steward, would have us believe that gift was unconnected to the expiration of its $24 million contract next summer. Wiseman's memory is fuzzy over how much has been donated in the past 25 years. Again, my question: how is the company reporting this $6000 on its income tax returns? How does CCSD plan to report it; or, maybe I should say, does CCSD plan to report it, if it doesn't keep track of donations?

Everyone can understand a local school's soliciting funds for extras, but let's think about what abuses can arise from the process if it is not monitored or recorded.
  • The district receives funds unrecorded on its balance sheets.

  • Contributions theoretically can influence awarding of contracts.

  • Schools with "contacts" will receive an inequitable share not reflected in the figures shown by district accounting.

  • Lack of oversight tests human nature's desire to get an edge on the competition.

We should use common sense, as Ron McWhirt is quoted as saying.

  • Donations over some minimum amount, say $50, should be recorded and reported to the district.

  • The district should keep records, public records, and include such donations on its balance sheets.

  • And those who award contracts should not solicit nor accept funds from potential contractors.

These policies (with the appropriate adjustments) can be put into effect for the coming school year. All it takes is the will to do it!

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

A previous post is worthy of repeating here:

"Oh, the pressure the P&C must be under now! On the front page this morning they are back peddling from the conflict of interest report on the party [for Goodloe] scam...a billion dollar governmental corporation (CCSD) trying to hide its financial indiscretions behind school bake sales, sports banquets and yearbook patrons. And if the public accepts this type of weaseling, then we deserve what CCSD (with the P&C's approval) is doing with our trust, our schools and our kids. I suppose this is what the newest new math people call, “ethics education”...[no] wonder our kids are such cynics before they reach middle school."

Wanna bet a charter school has to report everything it receives? Has a state ethics commission complaint been filed about this? Babbie, you're right. At what point do contractors become lobbyists? State rules are clear so why doesn't Don Kennedy understand the rules? He's a CPA, for crying out loud!

Anonymous said...

So, Don Kennedy says "it's okay because it's always been done this way?" Hmmm...this reminds me of several other serious problems we have with CCSD that apparently are OK because that's the way it's always been done.
Prominent Charlestonians using fake addresses to enter their grandchildren at Buist? Yeah, that's okay because "it's always been done this way." Oh, and Charleston Progressive not receiving magnet points, while all other magnet schools evidently do. Yeah, that's okay because "it's always been done that way."
If you believe this rationale is "OK", I have some great oceanfront property for sale in Goose Creek. Any takers?

Anonymous said...

Well said once again, Babbie...You say it like noone else can...
As I've said before...and as Wayne and Garth so eloquently put it...We're not worthy...We're not worthy...

underdog said...

Surely Dr. McGinley recognizes how senseless this all is. NBC and Nightline's coverage clearly showed Charleston that Philadelphia knows how it should be done. Let's just hope Dr. McG still has more Philly in her than this Charelston bs. Please don't let them to take you over to the "darkside," Dr. McGinley. May the force be with you!

Anonymous said...

I just watched the Channel 5 interview by Katie Crawford with G-J from earlier this week. The extended interview is on the WCSD website.

G-J's almost casual remark that Charleston is "the most racially segregated divided place I have ever lived" is an appropriate parting gesture to those who stood by her and defended her...in spite of her many gaffs and callously insensitive putdowns which she often directed toward concerned parents and critics alike.

We might now ask the B-Team pac, the fawning business groups, the mayor and individual county board members who sang her praises to no end how this final epithet she has launched in their direction now becomes them.