Wednesday, October 30, 2013

We Smell a Rat. Disappointing Discussion on Donoroo Debacle by Board of Education and Dr. Schuster

During Monday's Board of Education Meeting, multiple issues were discussed that we will be reporting on prior to the next meeting, scheduled for Monday, November 4. Tonight we will address the Donoroo Debacle.

How did the Board handle the Donoroo Debacle? There was hardly any discussion after Dr. Schuster read a prepared statement, that in our opinion seemed to try and deflect attention away from the concerning events that transpired over the last three years. To use a phrase uttered by Board President Turek earlier in the meeting when he accused Board Member Heneghan of bringing up a topic that he believed was off point to a topic being discussed, perhaps she was "going down a rat hole?" Rather than plunge right into a discussion about the "mistakes," Dr. Schuster dove deep into a prepared statement that focused on all the wonderful students we have at CHMS who have a strong desire and drive to participate in community service projects, such as the Donoroo Concert.  That was the wrong hole to dive into.

We want to state that we unequivocally agree that D181 students have shown tremendous interest and commitment to participating in public service projects. We commend them for this.  However, the Donoroo issue is not about the students' passion for community service, it is about the adults involved, how they have claimed ignorance on how the funds were to be used and then failed to distribute to all of the identified charities the funds collected from parents, students and community members.

We encourage everyone to listen to the Podcast of Monday's meeting, (discussion begins at 1:07:10 of the Podcast recording) to hear the syrupy statement read by Dr. Schuster, that while apologetic for the "mistakes" that had been uncovered concerning how Donoroo funds were spent for the benefit of CHMS -- by purchasing a soundboard -- utterly failed to address the specifics of what was the triggering event that led to the discovery of the "mistakes." Just as important is the fact that Dr. Schuster only briefly mentioned the fact that other charities that were to receive funds had not and massaged this fact by stating that they had not been paid "on time."

We find it quite troubling that Dr. Schuster kept insisting that no funds had been misappropriated.  According to the dictionary, the definition of misappropriation is the dishonest or unfair taking of something for one's own use.  Certainly, buying the soundboard, which did not benefit any student in need and was not purchased for a charitable organization, but for CHMS's own use, could be technically construed as misappropriation since it unfairly reduced the funds that were to be donated to other charities.  The fact that now district funds have "reimbursed" the Donoroo foundation does not negate that Donoroo funds were actually used to "purchase" a piece of equipment for the benefit of CHMS.  The CHMS principal was quoted in last week's Doings as stating "I was never fully aware that the account was only to support the charities," and "[t]hey were honest mistakes; nobody benefitted."

His "ignorance" is not believable.  How could any principal not have an understanding of how and for what purpose the various funds they oversee as the building leader can be used?  Dr. Schuster alluded to more "training" being required in the future for staff involved in the fundraisers, but that begs the question.  Why not ask the principal why he thought he could spend the money on the sound board?

But more disturbing than the $687.74 purchase is the fact that thousands of dollars were only distributed to the original charities after an internal investigation took place --  months after the May Donoroo Concert.  While all the funds have apparently now been paid to the charities, why was there no explanation by Dr. Schuster of why the funds were simply sitting in a fund at CHMS?  Simply saying these charities were not paid "on time" is not an adequate explanation.  Again, why wasn't this asked during the board meeting and an answer given?

We query whether had there not been a triggering event that caused the internal investigation, perhaps the funds would still be sitting in the CHMS fund, and remain undistributed to the other charities.  So the question returns to what exactly was the triggering event?  Board Member Heneghan asked Dr. Schuster for specifics.  She said she did not have them "memorized" and then turned to Mr. Eccarius for assistance in answering the question.  Unfortunately, Mr. Eccarius only answered in generalities.  So the question has still not been answered -- what was the triggering event?

And of course, there was no discussion or explanation by the administration as to why they waited so long to tell the parents, and only did so after Nurse Donahue felt compelled to send her own communication out to the rest of the CHMS staff.  What prompted her to do that? Another question not asked or answered.

Only Board Member Heneghan initially pushed for more information, while the rest of the board tried to quickly end the discussion and broom the unasked/unanswered questions under the rug.  It was not until Board Member Garg asked if perhaps an independent investigation was warranted, an idea that was rapidly shot down by the majority of the board, did Mr. Heneghan try again and suggest that at least one board member review the internal investigation that Dr. Schuster and Doug Eccarius had conducted -- that led them to conclude that no misappropriation of funds had occurred.  Hardly had the words left Mr. Heneghan's mouth, than Board Member Gary Clarin immediately volunteered to do it.

After his lack of concern shown during the "discussion"of this issue, we wonder how thorough a job Mr. Clarin will do when he reviews what the administration did over the summer.  We hope Mr. Clarin actually takes the time to determine the answer to the questions we have posed above and report them to the Board AND the community. We will eagerly await his report and hope it includes some specifics this time around.  As Mr. Heneghan told Dr. Schuster during the meeting, if there are questions out there -- rumors, as she called them -- why not address each one specifically and put them to bed?

Going down a rat hole is not the answer.  Come out and be transparent.  This is a serious situation that has upset many staff at CHMS, many parents at CHMS and most of all Ms. Donahue, or she would never have written her letter.  Until all questions have been answered with specific information, all we can say is that "we smell a rat."

We will await Mr. Clarin's report.

No comments: