Spending by charter office is in question
A Board of Education audit finds a need for disbursement policies
A Board of Education committee wants to seek opinions from the state Ethics Commission and the Department of Labor about past spending and hiring practices of the office that distributes $47 million annually to 27 charter schools.
The recommendations yesterday from the board's Committee on Audit came after the report found that the 3-year-old Charter School Administrative Office needs to develop a strategic plan and formal policies and procedures for cash disbursements.
Board member Garrett Toguchi questioned whether past practices such as spending $41,000 in state money for meals were "potentially inappropriate."
The Charter School Administrative Office will have drafts of a strategic plan and policies ready at the March committee meeting, said Maunalei Love, named interim director after the board fired Jim Shon in September.
Some board members balked at motions made by Toguchi to take charter office issues to the other state agencies. "Let's move forward," said Breene Harimoto. "I don't think we should open this can of worms."
Committee members focused on specific cash expenditures revealed in the audit:
» Some $41,611 in state money was spent feeding representatives from the charter schools who attended conferences and special events, as well as meals for staff meetings and farewell parties between September 2004 and Jan. 12, 2007.
» Travel stipends of $150 were given to school administrators for airfare and rental car expenses when they attended conferences on another island.
» The office paid $382.44 in travel expenses to bring two members of the Hawaii Charter School Network to Oahu for a Board of Education meeting.
"I don't think we misspent any money; I think we were pretty frugal," Shon said in a telephone interview. "We used charter school money to feed charter school people. It's one of the things you do when you have conferences. We reported on this in the past. Our budget and expenditures would circulate to the BOE and the schools. No one showed any interest."
The former executive officer added, "I think it's a good thing for this stuff to be clarified. It would have been really helpful when we started up if there was some advice on, 'Now you are setting up an office, and you need this and that.'"
He recalled that the office staff included only himself and the chief financial officer, Bob Roberts, when he was hired in September 2004. "It was a sprint to get things done for the schools."
Committee Chairwoman Donna Ikeda said the audit will be discussed by the full Board of Education at its March meeting, and given to the state Legislature and Gov. Linda Lingle.