WATERS: Scourge of financial scandals not limited to charter schools

Published 8:11 pm Thursday, June 11, 2020

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

The scandals just keep coming,” the Lexington Herald-Leader’s Linda Blackford wrote in a column about charter-school management companies last year.

However, Blackford’s outrage seems selective.

She attacks scandals caused by some ethically shaky firms entrusted to manage charter schools charged with providing parents looking for options with quality educational alternatives while conveniently ignoring similar financial scandals in traditional public schools.

Email newsletter signup

Both situations, of course, represent wrongdoing and deserve condemnation.

However, by giving total attention to scandals within the school-choice community while directing no ire toward those in traditional public education suggests to Blackford’s readers that wrongdoing only occurs in charters chosen by parents rather than in traditional schools assigned by central-office bureaucrats.

This approach conveniently fits her ideology but the credibility of her position is weakened when she ignores, for example, how traditional public school finance director Lesley Wade embezzled $1.6 million over nearly a decade from the Franklin County Schools (FCS), which backs right up to the Kentucky Capitol.

Wouldn’t Blackford’s “the scandals keep coming” assessment also apply to former traditional school employees like Superintendent William Rye, who embezzled nearly a half-million dollars from Dayton Independent Schools, or Benita Anglin, sentenced to 18 years in prison for stealing nearly $600,000 while payroll manager of Shelby County Schools?

Then, there’s former Warren County Schools’ Superintendent Randy Kimbrough, who got a two-year prison term for embezzling more than a half-million dollars while employed as the Kentucky Department of Education’s top financial official.

What about another superintendent, Tim Moore, who got two years’ probation and was ordered to pay $25,000 in restitution to Mason County Schools after pleading guilty to improper spending?

Incredibly, FCS Superintendent Mark Kopp acknowledges that auditors of local district finances don’t look for fraud nor review all checks.

Such lax oversight allows bureaucrats like Wade and Rye to swipe – and continue swiping — money from kids for years.

Clearly, there’s an urgent need for greater accountability regarding Kentucky’s public education spending, which consumes more than 40 cents of every tax dollar in the state budget.

Kathy Gornik, a Lexington entrepreneur, helped create the Kentucky Board of Education’s Finance Committee to bring more oversight to — and accountability for — the huge amount of dollars spent on the commonwealth’s public schools.

But, Gornik was removed from the board along with other reformers by Gov. Andy Beshear, who’s expressed no interest in increasing educational accountability.

One of the first actions taken by Beshear’s replacement — and complacent — board members was to shut down the Finance Committee.

That’s not stopping Gornik, though.

She wants to create an independent citizens’ advisory group on public school finance to at least slow the march of the scandals.

After all, since local auditors aren’t even looking for fraud, who knows what else might be going on?

Blackford fussed in her column that tax dollars shouldn’t be used to fund firms which create charter schools, “especially not when they’re supposed to be used to educate our children.”

But with millions embezzled directly into thieving traditional Kentucky education system bureaucrats’ pockets, will Blackford be as passionate about exposing such wrongdoing in traditional public schools?

Or, will she continue to limit her concern to charter schools’ financial hanky-panky as a cover to bash educational choice for parents?  

“If this level of fraudulent activity had occurred in a private school, the viability of that school would have been called into question,” Gornik rightly observed and Blackford needs to acknowledge.  

If Blackford is objectively sincere with her concerns about misdirection of public education dollars, she’ll stand with Gornik, who rightly expresses hope that “such accountability is also applied to public schools since this isn’t only stealing from taxpayers but also robbing needed resources for the education of our children.”

Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Read previous columns at www.bipps.org. He can be reached at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com and @bipps on Twitter.