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Southern Indiana Taxpayers Getting Hoodwinked

November 30th, 2009 by jake · 7 Comments

UPDATE: Thanks to Francene for having me on the show to discuss this brewing scandal. If you missed the program, I’ll publish a podcast by tomorrow.

UPDATE 2: Bennett – former GCCS supe and current head of public education in Indiana – just went on record with Francene saying he will take the appropriate steps to force GCCS to get the names/identities of Daeschner donors. Said he believes transparency is necessary. Kudos to Bennett!

Original story below…

The Greater Louisville Area thought it was finished with Stephen Daeschner when he was ousted as superintendent of Jefferson County Public Schools.

Fat chance.

He’s back. As superintendent of Greater Clark County Schools (GCCS) in Southern Indiana. Since August, the local media realm has been working to uncover details of a mess GCCS has on its hands. Daeschner, it seems, is being paid a whopping $225,000 per year in his new role. But not just by the taxpayers – by private foundations through which tens of thousands of dollars are being funneled to cover roughly a third of his salary.

$18,000 – via Community Foundation of Southern Indiana – has so far been received by GCCS for Daeschner’s salary and Chris Quay of the Courier-Journal has been hot on the trail. He filed several open records requests with GCCS to determine the identity(ies) of those responsible for the money but GCCS officials have gone out of their way to keep that information from the public.

GCCS has officially played a game, acting like money from the Community Foundation non-profit merely rolls into a general fund. Despite knowing fully well, of course, that the dollars from the organization are specifically directed at Daeschner’s salary. And GCCS officials have deliberately worked to mislead a reporter by playing dumb.

Let’s just dig right in to the emails and documents I uncovered with an open records request. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

On September 4, 2009 at 12:44 A.M., a representative from Cotton + Allen (CPA firm) and a GCCS board member sent an email to Sandy Lewis, GCCS general counsel:

Subject: PLEASE READ – NO NEED FOR CALL

Sandy,

I spoke with Dale this evening. A disbursement was approved last Tuesday for $18,000 (July, August and September). We should receive the check any day. I am not sure who it will go to. Please alert the person who opens the checks that you must receive it before depositing.

Thanks for your offer to help and for the info today. Much appreciated!

Missy

Melissa G. DeArk, CPA, MBA
Litigation Consulting Group

Cotton + Allen

On September 4, 2009 at 8:25 A.M., GCCS general counsel Sandy Lewis sent an email to Frank Collesano (Chief Financial Officer), Joanie Roberts, Tricia Spellman, Connie Pavey, Pam Maples and Stephen Daeschner:

Subject: Check from Community Foundation of Southern Indiana

Frank, Joanie, Tricia, Connie or Pam:

We are expecting a check from the Community Foundation of Southern Indiana to arrive any day. The check amount should be $18,000.00. I need to see the check when it comes in and need to know the date it arrives.

I am not certain who will receive this check first so am including all of you on this email.

Instructions on depositing and what account it will be deposited in will be provided after I know that it has been received.

Thanks,

Sandy

Read the rest and find out if GCCS is deliberately misleading reporters who file open records requests after the jump…

September 4, 2009 at 12:55 P.M. from Sandy Allen to Stephen Daeschner and Miss of Cotton + Allen:

Subject: Community Foundation

Missy and Dr. D.

I talked to Dale Orem today about the contribution from the Community Foundation of Southern Indiana.

He said:

1. He has submitted an official request to the Community Foundation to make a disbursement to GCCS for July, August and September.

2. He said that the Foundation’s Board of Directors must approve all claims before a check can be issued.

3. He wasn’t sure when the next meeting date was for the Directors, but thought it might take a week or so before I’d get the check.

4. He said that his instructions were for the check, once issued, was to be mailed to my attention.

5. He also said that he has commitments for the October amount and part of November.

Let me know if there is any follow up you’d like for me to handle.

Sandra W. Lewis

On September 11, 2009 the Community Foundation sent the $18,000 check along with the following letter to GCCS:

September 11, 2009

Greater Clark County School Corporation
℅ Sandy Lewis, Attorney
2212 Utica-Sellersburg Road
Jeffersonville, IN 47130

Dear Ms. Lewis:

Enclosed is the grant requested by Dale Oem the amount of $18,000.00 from the Greater Clark County School Corporation Operations Pass Through Fund. This fund is held at the Community Foundation of Southern Indiana. The grant moneys should be added to the Corporation’s general fund to benefit the organization.

The vision of our Board of Directors is that the Community Foundation of Southern Indiana serves as a powerful resource to inspire philanthropy, ensuring generosity will last forever. We are happy to provide assistance and support to organizations like yours, and we look forward to working with you in the future. Please contact me at 948-4662 if you have any questions or concerns.

Sincerely,

Melissa Weissinger
Program Officer

On the 15th of September, Sandy Lewis forwarded that letter to the school board, Stephen Daeschner, Kathy Gilbert, Frank Collesano, Martin Bell and Travis Haire. But it didn’t sit well with Christina Gilkey, a member of the GCCS Board of Trustees. On the 16th at 12:22 P.M., she sent an email to the board, Sandy Lewis, Missy at Cotton + Allen, Stephen Daeschner and Travis Haire:

Subject: FW: Community Foundation of So. In.

Is this the money raised by Dale Orem to help supplement Dr. Daeschner’s salary? If so, where’s the difference of $57,000 coming from? How will this board ensure the money is raised as part of the promise to the taxpayers of this district was that we (GCCS) were only paying $150,000 out of General fund money for the first year? It’s been 4 months since the contract was approved. I’m disappointed we (as a board) haven’t been more diligent in tracking the fundraising. The taxpayers are asking questions. What’s our next move?

Christina Gilkey
GCCS Board of Trustees

Proof the funds were for Daeschner?

If there was ever a response to Gilkey’s email, Sandy Lewis withheld it from my records request for whatever reason.

Throughout the rest of September there were various emails to and from Daeschner, Lewis and their assistants regarding thank-you letters to the Community Foundation for the $18,000.

Then that pesky newspaper reporter started asking more questions. He wanted to know the name(s) of the individual(s) who had contributed the $18,000. But Sandy Lewis wasn’t having that. Here’s the email she sent on September 23, 2009 at 1:09 PM to Donna Mullins (Human Resources), Frank Collesano, Stephen Daeschner and Martin Bell:

Subject: RE: Request for Access to Public Information

Group:

After thinking about exactly what was requested by the Courier Journal reporter as indicated below in Donna’s email, and my original recommendation to send the letter….I have another idea.

Depending on whether you want to “play nice in the sandbox” …the response could be that GCCS has not received any funds specifically targeted to pay the salary of Dr. Daeschner.

The letter from the Community Foundation of Southern Indiana transmitting the $18,000 merely states that “the money should be added to the Corporation’s general fund to benefit the organization.”

The letter does not say that the money is specifically targeted for Dr. D’s salary.

What is your pleasure?

Sandy Lewis

Martin Bell responded on the 24th at 8:55 P.M. with the following:

Subject: RE: Request for Access to Public Information

I think we need to be transparent and tell the we have received $18,000.00 from the Community Foundation. The $18,000.00 was for the Supt. salary, correct??? Also provide a copy of the letter.

More proof?

Lewis responded on the 25th at 9:42 A.M.:

Subject: RE: Request for Access to Public Information

Marty,

I agree 100% that we should be transparent with the media; but I think we should always respond to what is being requested.

Chris Quay, Courier Journal reporter, asked for names of contributors, dates of contributions, and amounts for “contributions made to the foundation” … toward Dr. Daeschner’s salary.

Greater Clark’s Educational Foundation has not received any contributions.

Great Clark, itself, did get a check from the Community Foundation in the amount of $18,000 but the accompanying letter does not say it is for Dr. Daeschner’s salary. It states, in part: “the money should be added to the Corporation’s general fund to benefit the organization.”

When Dr. D was hired, the justification for the salary difference from that of Tony Bennett’s was that community funds would be raised. Dale Orem, VP of Board – Your Community Bank, agreed to spearhead a private donations campaign to offset the cost of the Supt’s salary. His fundraising efforts are being put in a “pass through” fund at the Community Foundation for GCCS’s benefit. Greater Clark does not know who is making contributions or what Dale actually is telling people when asking for funds. Certainly the intent when receive those contributions will be to used it toward the superintendent’s salary budget line item.

After thinking in more detail about the specific request, I’d recommend the following:

Letter to the reporter be prepared advising:

Subject: Public Records Request

Dear Mr. Mr. Quay:

In response to your public records’ request asking for records stating the names of donors, the dates of the donation, and how much was contributed to the foundation toward Dr. Daeschner’s salary, be advised that, to date, Greater Clark’s Educational Foundation has not received any financial gifts or contributions that are specifically designated for Dr. Daeschner’s. Greater Clark County Schools did receive a check in the amount of $18,000 from the Community Foundation of Southern Indiana which specifies that the money should be added to the Corporation’s general fund to benefit the organization. At this time, Greater Clark intends to use those funds to offset Dr. Daeschner’s salary. A copy of the letter is attached.

Sincerly,

Frank Collesano, CFO

Marty: If you concur, I will get the letter prepared for Frank’s signature.

Sandy Lewis

That letter was later sent on September 28 via email.

Proof the funds were for Daeschner and that GCCS officials were working hard to mislead Quay. Quay continued filing requests through October but got no where. Lewis and others issued the same non-responses. Here’s an example of the behind-the-scenes workings:

From: Bob McEwen
Sent: Thursday, October 15, 2009 4:00 PM
To: Sandy Lewis
Subject: blank

Courier Journal is calling regarding Dr. D foundation part of salary.

Could we release a statement. They call two or three and get all different stories.

Bob.

Here’s Lewis’ response:

From: Sandy Lewis
Sent: Friday, October 16, 2009 1:16 PM
To: Bob McEwen
Subject: RE:

Bob,
We can put a statement together. We’ ve told them that we have no access to who made contributions to Community Foundation of So. Indiana on behalf of GCCS…and the letter sent with contribution doesn’t say for Dr. D’s salary..but to benefit GCCS.
Sandy
Sent from my Windows Mobile phone

The non-answers got to Quay so he filed a complaint with Andrew Kossack, Indiana’s Public Access Counselor. You can read the GCCS response by clicking here. (Warning: PDF Link) It’s far too lengthy to transcribe, but here’s the gist: Lewis responds that she and GCCS are not breaking the law by withholding public records. She says there’s no way for GCCS to know who is contributing those funds to a pass-through non-profit partially funding Daeschern’s salary.

And for those interested, click here (Warning: PDF Link) for a copy of Stephen Daeschner’s contract with GCCS.

There. I think these emails and documents give you plenty of information to come to your own conclusion.

GCCS officials may or may not be going out of their way to mislead Courier-Journal reporters while at the same time hiding the source of Daeschner’s salary.

I smell a lawsuit coming from the C-J to have those records declared public. And an inquiry from Indiana’s Public Access Counselor. Because nobody in their right mind thinks it’s legit for the source of a government employee’s salary to be kept from the public eye. Especially not when those heading a public school district are so brazenly playing dumb.

Or is it “playing nice in the sandbox”?

My thoughts: If GCCS intentionally misled a Courier-Journal employee – wonder what they’re withholding from me?

Why is it necessary for GCCS to be so secretive about Daeschner’s salary? What’s there to hide? How can taxpayers feel confident that no special interests or backward peddlers of influence – maybe individuals or businesses who stand to make millions from the school district – aren’t contributing large sums of money to the superintendent?

There’s no way to know.

NOTE: If you have additional information regarding this story, please contact me. This isn’t going away no matter how badly a few public employees work to keep us in the dark.

Tags: Courier-Journal · Education · Indiana · JCPS · Oops · Salaries · Scandal · Taxes

7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 James H // Nov 30, 2009 at 11:10 am

    Good work Jake.

  • 2 Bob McEwen // Nov 30, 2009 at 11:51 am

    Jake.

    I think the public access counselor made a ruling on this. I read it in the Courier. Could you include that in your story?

  • 3 jake // Nov 30, 2009 at 11:54 am

    Bob–

    I appreciate your interest as a player in this whole mess. But if you read the story above and click the links, you’ll see that I published the Public Access Counselor’s report re: GCCS.

    And if you listened to Francene earlier, Bennett (as I published in an update at the top of this story) will be pressing to reveal the identities you guys are working to keep secret. When the head of public education for the entire state says something is wrong, you can bet your booties it’s wrong.

  • 4 Ron Calabro // Nov 30, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    Thanks Jake!

    Rest assured the GCCS teachers are teaching honesty, responsibility and how to “play nice in the sandbox.”

  • 5 jake // Nov 30, 2009 at 4:39 pm

    For the record: nearly everyone I’ve spoken with and interviewed at GCCS is above board and super-professional.

    It’s just a few people who have willfully mislead the press and the taxpayers for their own personal benefit.

  • 6 citizen // Nov 30, 2009 at 7:50 pm

    Wonder how much grant money Robbie Valentine is funneling to the foundation to pay Daeschner only to have him give Robbie a sweet contract to babysit the GCCS at-risk students?

  • 7 Bob McEwen // Dec 1, 2009 at 2:15 pm

    Is the podcast up???

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