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‘Follow the money’

Experts step up to aid DPS board

By T. Kelly
The Michigan Citizen

DETROIT — Financial experts have come forth to aid the Detroit Board of Education in its battle to discover where public funds are being spent, all in the effort to oust the state-appointed emergency manager.

Wayne County Circuit Judge Annette Berry ruled last month the elected board had a right to access the district’s financial software, PeopleSoft. Board members sued the emergency manager to access the financial data. They need it to prepare their argument for restoring local control to the district at the end of the EM’s tenure. On Feb. 18, under PA 436, the board will petition the governor to remove the EM and restore the democratically-elected officials. To date, Gov. Rick Snyder has not removed state control over any government bodies under emergency management.

Greg Frazier, left, and Tom Pedroni

Greg Frazier, left, and Tom Pedroni

At its Dec. 22 meeting, the board approved a contract with CPA Greg Frazier to “inspect, query, analyze the financial transactions.”

“This is a totally pro bono contract,” Frazier said in remarks. “This promotes transparency of financial transactions.”

Frazier said he will create a website to post the transactions, list the vendors and where they are located so visitors to the site can see how much money goes to which vendors, when they receive it and how much is leaving the district, the city, the state.

“I count on you to take the time to query the information, to see patterns. I can’t see everything, but in the social networks, we all see something and whether or not there is misappropriation. We will be empowered,” he said.

Board member Elena Herrada said the board members had received training in using PeopleSoft, as ordered by Judge Berry, but “the itemized expenditures are not visible. There still is no transparency, no communication between the departments and the board.”

Frazier recounted suing Emergency Manager Robert Bobb in 2007 —after a two-year legal battle he and Agnes Hitchcock of Call ‘Em Out won the right to the DPS fiscal data but they only had that information through 2009.

“We didn’t know what we were looking at, (when looking at People Soft),” President Lamar Lemmons said. “It’s a blessing to have him. We don’t have the money to hire anyone with his expertise. We greatly appreciate him.”

Emergency managers have sole power to spend money without oversight.

Tom Pedroni, Wayne State Associate Professor of Curriculum Studies, also stepped forth to offer his services pro bono in aiding the board. Pedroni has previously published analyses of DPS test scores revealing exaggeration by emergency managers claiming academic progress that his study of test scores does not support.

“There is a substantial increase in the (learning) gap,” Pedroni said, offering his service. He announced he has a journalism intern from Northwestern University assisting him in studying the learning achievements — or lack thereof — in DPS, the EAA and the charters created as the EMs closed Detroit schools. He said what they have learned to date is that the “same players are guiding each sector.”

“It’s a cartel system,” Pedroni said, benefitting “preferred vendors without credentials.” Despite all the competitive rhetoric of corporate education reformers, “it’s about who gets control of the contracts,” he said. Pedroni said he will donate his one-dollar pay for the work.

Board Member Ida Short expressed her appreciation for Frazier and Pedroni. “This fight with the EM and the governor has been lonely and emotional. Your helping us is an answer to our prayers,” Short said.

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