Transparent California helps uncover massive fraud in LA school district

On Monday, the Los Angeles County Office of Education and the Fiscal Crisis and
Management Assistance Team (FCMAT) released their “Extraordinary Audit of
Montebello Unified School District.”

In the introduction, the audit cites the following as an impetus for their investigation:

Prior to the teacher’s request, there were many rumors alleging that some K-12 teachers and classified employees were given the opportunity to earn large amounts of extra money for little or no work, paid from adult education funds.

Coworkers accessed the Transparent California website (www.transparentcalifornia.com), which revealed that some of the district’s instructors earned exceptionally high salaries. This led to questions about how these instructors were earning such high compensation. (emphasis mine)

District administrators were told that instructors, including classified employees, had adult education class rosters with few or no students in attendance, and this raised serious questions that prompted an internal investigation and led to discussions with the county office of education.

The audit then found many instances where “hourly pay occurred during times when classes were not in session,” and that in the majority of cases studied “the district’s payroll records did not have sufficient supporting documents to conclude that compensation paid from adult education funds was for legitimate payroll expenditures…”

In its conclusion, the audit determined that:

there is sufficient evidence to demonstrate that fraud, mismanagement and misappropriation of the district’s funds and assets may have occurred.

The audit could only state that fraud “may” have occurred, citing a requirement that only a court could definitely make such a determination.

Consequently, the audit instructed the county superintendent to immediately inform “the local district attorney that fraud or misappropriation of district funds and/or assets may have occurred,” for further action.

Nonetheless, the audit findings are such that it’s almost impossible to imagine any explanation other than fraud.

The teachers’ use of Transparent California to help uncover this fraud is just one more example of the enormous benefits such transparency provides — although certainly not one we could have imagined when we first created the site!

You can read the full audit by clicking here.

Positive reforms, Transparent California Edition

Transparent California was back in the news again this month, as a pair of agencies adopted reforms in response to our previous reporting.

In Riverside, the City Council received the results of an audit that was commissioned in response to our story that a utilities dispatcher made nearly $400,000, after receiving the state’s 10th largest overtime payout.

The Press-Enterprise reported on the progress the city took after our report was published:

changes began in 2017, after the website Transparent California reported that dispatcher Donald Dahle received the 10th largest overtime payout in California in 2016 — double his six-figure base salary.

“Since the time period covered by the audit, we noted the City and RPU have hired additional staff, and made significant improvements to strengthen internal controls, such as new policies and procedures, and implemented overtime monitoring procedures,”

In BART reining in janitor overtime after public fallout, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on how much things have changed since our story of a BART janitor’s $271,000 pay package went global:

“There’s been a lot of attention paid to getting salaries in alignment,” said Robert Raburn, president of the BART Board of Directors. “We’re righting the ship and making sure we have reasonable workforce policies in place.”


And in Marin, we got back to basics as we provided residents with complete information regarding the local pension fund, with the Marin IJ covering the release of the new, 2017 pension data in a remarkably thorough piece.

And for a project explicitly focused on California, it is always neat to see the wide reach of the site. In The Pleasure and Pain of Being California, the World’s 5th-Largest Economy, the New York Times gave us a nice shout-out:

Facebook revealed last month that the median pay of its employees was $240,430 a year. But the fire chief in San Ramon has been doing pretty well, too, with total pay and benefits of $516,344 in 2016, according to the website Transparent California. And nearly 200 police officers across the state make more than $300,000 a year, when overtime and benefits are included.

To all who donate to help keep the site going, thank you for making this possible. Have a great weekend everyone!

TransCal helps uncover “hidden” employment

A group called Restore the Delta cited TransparentCalifornia.com for helping to shine light on the past employment history of the newly appointed California Department of Water Resources Director:

STOCKTON, Feb. 22, 2018  Documents acquired by Restore the Delta from a recent a public records act request to Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) confirm that newly appointed California Department of Water Resources Director (DWR) Karla Nemeth was a MWD employee from 2009 to 2014, earning over $900,000 in total compensation.  During her MWD tenure, she was contracted to work for Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) planning under the CalFed program, and then by the California Department of Water Resources. All PRA documents sent by MWD to Restore the Delta can be read here.

Representatives from various state water agencies and policy groups downplayed Ms. Nemeth’s pro-tunnels employment history with MWD in a recent Sacramento Bee report, while Restore the Delta maintained that Ms. Nemeth’s work history should be further scrutinized as a conflict of interest. Specifically, Restore the Delta noted that a report from Transparent California indicated Ms. Nemeth’s complicated employment history between MWD and California Natural Resources Agency.

You can read the full report here.

Madera resident uncovers city officials’ hefty pay raises

The ABC30 report, Madera resident claim city administrators gave themselves hefty pay raises, is a great example of how TransparentCalifornia.com is used by concerned citizens interesting in understanding how their tax dollars are being spent.

Click here to watch the TV segment.

As it turns out, that was just the tip of the iceberg.

The questions about Madera’s hefty pay raises led to a full-length response from the mayor in the Madera Tribune.

But that response only made matters worse, as we documented in our report Madera mayor misleads residents in attempt to hide unjustifiable, excessive pay raises.

 

 

California needs to put some heat in its sunshine law

In an exclusive op-ed for The Modesto Bee I discuss the importance of adding penalties to California’s Public Records Act. A slice:

When a government denies access to public records in violation of the CPRA, those requesting the information have only two choices: give up or sue.

Suing can take months and be very expensive. So, many simply give up.

As a result, some governments have become accustomed to violating the law in especially indefensible ways.

Another way agencies obstruct access is by charging excessive “production fees.”

That’s what happened in our recent request from the Southern Kern Unified School District. The district’s official response alleged that providing the requested records would take 35 hours of staff time, and thus demanded payment of a $1,150 programming fee before they would proceed.

The letter closed by directing all questions to the district’s legal counsel, Bill Hornback, suggesting this determination was made in consultation with an attorney.

We often hear from residents who get similar responses and feel they have no recourse and give up.

When the average citizen gets a letter from the government or its attorneys claiming something as fact, how many are comfortable disputing the claim?

Unable to fork over the hundreds or even thousands of dollars, those citizens are simply denied access to the information they are entitled to have.

Because Southern Kern Unified uses identical payroll software to a neighboring school district — who attested the information could be provided in under 5 minutes at no charge — we knew their $1,150 programming fee was bogus.

Despite telling Southern Kern this, no substantive response was provided until we finally threatened legal action three weeks later — at which point the information was provided in just a few hours at no cost.

Be sure to read the whole thing by clicking here!