LORAIN — Concerns raised by an Academic Distress Commission member brought Lorain Schools CEO’s authorized reimbursements under fire at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting.
In a letter commission member Diane Conibear-Xander sent to Attorney Anthony Farris from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, she highlighted concerns she had with Sunshine Laws and a reimbursement check for moving expenses beyond what was allowed in Chief Schools Officer LaKimbre Brown’s contract.
Conibear-Xander noted reimbursements were close to $16,000, almost $6,000 more than outlined in Brown’s contract, according to information she obtained via public record. Conibear-Xander pointed to cashiers’ checks and receipts, as well as the district reimbursing Brown for 44 nights in a Washington, D.C., condo via Airbnb.
The condo, according to Conibear-Xander’s information, cost close to $4,000 and was booked from Jan. 17 to March 2. Brown’s contract was effective March 12.
Board member Tim Williams questioned Treasurer Josh Hill on how the district came to reimburse Brown for the full amount.
“We have a contract that says $10,000, we have a reimbursement of $16,000,” Williams said. “How does that happen? … Is there (a memorandum) that modified this contract?”
Hill said while he brought up the discrepancy to the CEO, David Hardy authorized the payment, which he has the power to unilaterally do under House Bill 70.
Williams went on to request an external audit on the reimbursement via the district’s legal counsel.
“Now I don’t think it’s all your fault,” Williams said to Hill. “You’re in a tough spot, you’re in a spot where you’ve got stuff coming from both sides. We throw it at you, he throws it at you, you’re getting all this stuff. And you’re trying to figure out how to do your work with integrity. What I’m saying is this piece right here — and I would say this from my personal knowledge, you’re a person of high integrity — but this right here does not represent your work product of the past, nor this board’s.”
Hill said he is happy to take the board’s questions on expenditures to the CEO, but ultimately what he needs to pay those items is Hardy’s signature, not the board’s approval — similar to when the board used to vote to authorize him to pay signatures via a vote before the state takeover.
In terms of Sunshine Laws, Conibear-Xander’s letter referenced emails sent from Hardy to the state-appointed members of the Academic Distress Commission: Chairman Randall Sampson, Michele Soliz and Patty O’Brien ahead of the March commission meeting. In it, Hardy warns commission members of things he thinks will come up in the meeting, including students speaking on behalf of teachers and “reasons/opinions” why a change of CEO is needed.
In another email chain earlier in March, Hardy attaches his response to claims made at the joint ADC-school board meeting in late February for their approval, at Sampson’s suggestion, according to the emails. Later that afternoon, he also forwards several requests from the board to the state-appointed ADC members, noting to them that none of the requests have anything to do with “(educating) our scholars.”
Conibear-Xander contends she and fellow commissioner Steve Cawthon were deliberately excluded from the information shared with the other commissioners.
The district plans to move away from its one-to-one laptop model and back to computers-on-wheels, or COW, according to discussions Tuesday.
This year, each student received a laptop, but speaking as a teacher, Commission member Steve Cawthon said it caused some frustration for teachers as often students didn’t bring their computers to class.
“I think the mindset to go to the one-to-one was probably good in theory but poor in implementation,” he said. “I think we tried that years ago and it did not work particularly well back then.”
“It was disastrous,” Williams said. “It was bad, we wasted significant money. So we would hope that you do that one time, you learn the lesson and then you move forward so … I don’t know that we had to go this route twice. When we first heard about it, we were saying, ‘Hey, we did this before, I don’t remember specifically why … but it didn’t work.’”
Hill couldn’t give the board specific numbers of laptops not returned at Tuesday’s meeting. He said those laptops that had been returned and were in working order would be transitioned onto the classroom-based carts.
“The model was flawed,” Hill said. “There’s still enough issues with it, that that’s why we transitioned.”
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