Slowik: School board adopts new policy to address members' use of charge cards

Slowik: School board adopts new policy to address members’ use of charge cards


A south suburban school district has adopted a new policy for use of district-issued charge cards by elected school board members after a board member charged more than $5,000 in personal expenses on a card.

Park Forest-Chicago Heights School District 163 board member Walter Mosby said the charges for personal use were a mistake and that he has repaid the funds, with interest.

“If anyone abuses a privilege — even if it’s their fault indirectly or directly — they’re responsible for it because it’s in your name,” Mosby said Monday night. “You have to take full responsibility and make retribution because it’s taxpayer dollars.”

The school district canceled Mosby’s district-issued procurement card in July 2017, and he has been without the privilege ever since. Mosby also is Ward 1 alderman in Chicago Heights and pastor of Greater Faith Baptist Church in Chicago Heights.

He is not seeking re-election as alderman in the April 2 election, but he is seeking another term on the District 163 school board. He is one of five candidates seeking three seats.

“Most people who know me know that I’m a man of character,” Mosby said. “I have nothing to hide.”

Mosby was first elected to the school board in 2007 and served three terms as board president before Lance Jefferson became president in May 2017. Jefferson said he first questioned the use of procurement cards, or “p-Cards,” by board members when he became board president.

“That’s when I instituted the process” for Mosby and another board member, Judy Hawthorne, to square their accounts with the district, Jefferson said. The issue with Hawthorne’s account was a lack of receipts showing justification for expenses, he said.

The district also canceled Hawthorne’s procurement card privilege at the same time as Mosby’s, Jefferson wrote in separate memos dated July 13, 2017, to the two board members. The Daily Southtown obtained copies of the memos and financial records through the Freedom of Information Act.

“Please be advised, your current procurement card has been canceled and until further notice, any charges made for board business would be done on a reimbursement basis,” Jefferson wrote in separate memos to Mosby and Hawthorne.

The district restored Hawthorne’s access to her card in October 2017, records show. Access was canceled a second time, Jefferson wrote to Hawthorne on Sept. 14, 2018.

“All receipts from the National School Board Association Annual Conference in San Antonio, Texas, must be submitted prior to our next session,” Jefferson wrote. Her access to the card was again restored a short time later, records show.

Hawthorne also is seeking another term on the board. Candidates Christina Dupee and Randall J. White are challenging the three incumbents: Hawthorne, Jefferson and Mosby.

Records show that Mosby’s procurement card was used to make four charges totaling $1,800 to Mosby’s church via a Paypal account between March 10, 2017 and March 20, 2017.

Mosby said a disgruntled former church secretary made the charges on the card shortly before her employment at the church ended. Records show Mosby repaid the district the $1,800 between March 23, 2017 and March 27, 2017.

But Mosby’s procurement card was then used to make three additional cash charges totaling $900 between March 29, 2017 and April 2, 2017, records show. Mosby repaid the district $600 on April 7, 2017.

“Per our conversation, you have an outstanding balance of $364.09,” Jefferson wrote to Mosby in the July 13, 2017 memo. “This balance must be paid in full prior to our next regular session.”

Then, Mosby’s card was used to make three additional charges totaling $2,300 between Nov. 9, 2017 and Dec. 3, 2017, records show.

Mosby repaid the district $3,852 in four payments between Dec. 14, 2017 and March 6, 2018, records show. The district first charged Mosby interest on the outstanding balance when it levied a $24.35 charge on Dec. 20, 2017.

The district charged Mosby interest rates that started at 10.25 percent and climbed to 12.75 percent at the end of 2018.

Jefferson wrote another memo to Mosby dated Sept. 14, 2018, informing him of an outstanding balance.

“This is an intent to close this issue so that it does not become a discussion in the open session of any board meeting,” Jefferson wrote.

Dupee, one of the candidates vying for a seat on the school board, said she learned of the charges when she obtained records through a FOIA request after questioning how much school board members charged the district in travel, meals and hotels for attending conferences.

“We have high tax bills out here, and the bulk of it goes to the school district,” Dupee said. “It bothers me.”

The seven school board members charged a collective total of $58,165 on district-issued procurement cards between the beginning of 2017 and the first two months of this year, records show.

Nearly all the expenses were related to national school board conferences in Denver, San Antonio and Las Vegas and Illinois Association of School Board conferences in Chicago.

Jefferson said the expenses were within the district’s budget of $30,000 a year for professional development for board members.

“It may look excessive but I believe board members should get professional development,” Jefferson said.

Board member expenses for the past 26 months ranged from $4,518 for Margaret McDannel to $12,964 for Braxton. Mosby charged $9,197 before his card was canceled. Hawthorne charged $9,043 and Jefferson charged $8,602. Board members Jacqueline Jordan and Allison McCray charged $7,821 and $6,018, respectively.

The board Monday night unanimously adopted a new policy for board member compensation and expenses. The policy sets in writing procedures the district has been using to address the issue, said Joyce Carmine, interim superintendent. Members who repeatedly violate procedures may have access to their cards permanently revoked.

“I feel like some errors are worse than others,” McCray said during a policy committee meeting before the full board meeting.

“Our main issue is (board members) not turning in receipts for accounting purposes,” Jefferson said.

Many school districts issue procurement cards to board members to charge expenses. The IASB offers a program to districts throughout Illinois.

“The p-Card program available for Illinois school districts reduces paperwork, provides better reporting, increases budget controls, and helps to lower the cost of payments,” the IASB says on its website.

[email protected]

Twitter @TedSlowik1


Source link Google News


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *