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Oklahoma Department of Ed audit: $63k for "production costs," $24k for "decoration charges"

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OSDE officials expended funds from an unofficial and unauthorized bank account for questionable items and purchases related to an OSDE sponsored conference with no official oversight while also avoiding public scrutiny.

As noted in Finding #1, OSDE officials confirmed they were collecting funds, creating reports, or doing other work related to OCIC while also serving as OSDE employees. Under the provisions of 62 O.S. § 34.57(B) previously cited in this report, it is the duty of “each state agency, officer, or employee to deposit…all monies of every kind” into the agency clearing account or special account.

Since the funds collected by the OSDE officials were not deposited into an official state account, there was no governmental oversight and little transparency outside of other OSDE officials in how the funds were expended. This allowed OSDE officials to pay for beer, wine, and other mixed drinks with no independent oversight while also avoiding public scrutiny.

For example, on July 10, 2007, OSDE officials, Tom White and Dr. Cindy Koss, signed a check payable to Bricktown Brewery for $6,875.00 with the notation “Leadership Reception.” We found a receipt with the notation “DEPT OF EDU” in the same $6,875.00 amount, which included $2,800.00 for beer and wine, $2,725.00 for appetizers, $500.00 for a band, $800.00 for gratuity, and a $1,300.00 “service charge.”

The receipt, which had been copied to a larger sheet of paper, included the handwritten notation, “State Superintendent’s Leadership Reception,” and was signed as “correct” by Tom White and “approved” by Dr. Ramona Paul, who was also an OSDE official.

We found a similar invoice dated in 2006 to Bricktown Brewery in the amount of $7,350.00. The invoice included $3,200.00 for 1600 “draft beers, well drinks or house wine” as well as $1,000.00 for “band with sound and lights.” We obtained a check register reflecting the payment was made from the Leadership account on July 11, 2006, but no other records were provided indicating who authorized or approved the payment.

A $4,522.10 payment was made from the Leadership account on July 8, 2008, and supported by a receipt from Chelino’s Mexican Restaurant. The receipt supporting the payment included various types of alcoholic beverages.

The receipt had been copied onto a larger sheet of paper, and included the handwritten notation “Superintendent’s Reception at Leadership Conference.” It was also signed by Tom White and Dr. Paul.

A check, also dated July 8, 2008, was written from the Leadership account to Chelino’s for $4,522.10. The check was signed by Tom White and Dr. Cindy Koss, who also was an OSDE official at the time the check was written.

We noted other payments from the account in 2008 were related to the State Superintendent’s Leadership Conference including $63,397 for “production costs,” $23,820 for “decorator charges,” and $12,233 for “catering and room charges.”

Although many of the expenditures from the Leadership account related to the Superintendent’s Leadership Conference, we also found expenditures being made from the account related to various other aspects of OSDE.

For example, on February 21, 2007, a check was written from the Leadership account for $9,059.29 payable to the “Renaissance Oklahoma City.” The check included the notation “Special Ed. Conference.”

Keep in mind: this audit was done for July 1, 2008, to June 30, 2011. Sandy Garrett was the superintendent until Janet Barressi took over Jan. 10, 2011. Barressi is the one who requested this investigation.

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Carrie Coppernoll

Carrie Coppernoll is a columnist and reporter. She was named the top personal columnist in Oklahoma in 2009 and 2010 by the Associated Press and Association of Newspaper Editors. She was also named the 2008 Journalist of the Year by the Oklahoma... Read more ›