Monday, August 24, 2009

FTD -OR- Say It With Flowers

Today is back to school day for the large chunks of the USA. For the parents, students and teachers of 143 school districts in Suburban Chicago, today's opening day will take place without the Regional Superintendent of Schools for Crook County.

In what passes for education in Illinois, the Offices Of Regional Superintendents exist in the gray areas. I know! A gray area in Crook Illinois? Say it ain't so! Must be some typical Chicago style Demoncratic Machine politics, Right? Actually not. The office was eliminated in 1990 by Crook County Dems when Da City of Chicago took control of its own schools. That didn't sit well with the R governor, downstate and collar county Republicans since it left 143 suburban Chicago school districts without a bureaucrat. They formed a new position for the suburbs so the Republican Governor could appoint a Republican who would then establish an incumbency advantaged foot in the door around Chicago. A turnstile through which to process and harness information.

In 2006, Dr. Flowers finally noticed this anomaly and ran against the R as a Democrat. Surprise, he won. With fanfare befitting such an ignoble cranny in the bureaucratic structure, Dr. Charles Flowers ascended on promise of "making things better". Being that it was Crook County, the "for myself and my friends" was conveniently omitted from his acceptance speech.

From the Association of Regional Superintendents website:

" The Role of the Regional Superintendent

The Regional Superintendent of Schools is the chief administrative officer of a Regional Office of Education, and the only elected education professional office in Illinois. As an intermediate agency between the Illinois State Board of Education and local school districts, the office of the Regional Superintendent performs regulatory functions as directed by the Illinois School Code. The Code states that "the Regional Superintendent of Schools:
... shall exercise supervision and control over all school districts in the region.

... shall act as the official advisor and assistant of the school officers and teachers in his region. In the performance of this duty he shall carry out the advice of the State Superintendent of Education."

In addition to coordinating and delivering state and local services, the Regional Superintendent acts as an advocate for education by providing positive leadership and disseminating information for educators, school districts and the public. Specific duties of the Regional Superintendent are stated in the School Code and can be summarized in two major areas, service and assurance to the public.

Service components include the dissemination of information on education legislation, legal issues, cooperative management, research and administration. The Regional Superintendent also provides information to citizens about state and local programs that will help meet the needs of their children. Each service component requires specific skills placing the Regional Superintendent as an intermediate agent who brings together people, concepts and resources to provide educational services.

Assurances to the public cover areas such as fiscal responsibilities, local school performances, life safety, certification, supervision and curriculum. In these areas legislation places enforcement responsibilities on the Regional Superintendent to guarantee that certain minimums are met and legal parameters followed.

During the course of the school year, the Regional Superintendent and his staff receive numerous telephone calls, letters and visits from parents, school personnel, and citizens concerning a multitude of educational concerns. It is the policy of the Regional Superintendent to give prompt service and accurate information to any individual or group seeking assistance.

Dr. Charles Flowers will not be circulating among the districts in his oversight capacity for Suburban Crook County. It's tough to get around when your personal assets are frozen. To be fair to Dr. Flowers, the R's who were blowing the whistle knew exactly where to point for the most likely problems. It would not be fair to say they booby-trapped the R.O.E. prior to turning over the keys. They just knew how the place was set up and operated which gave them all the ammo needed.

They spurred and prodded an audit of the operations.
The auditors found some irregularities in the books, triggering an investigation which led to a criminal investigation that is currently pending additional charges.

The shocking (in the finest Casablanca sense of the word) findings so far include:

* Regional Supt. Charles Flowers charged thousands of dollars worth of personal expenses -- including plane tickets to Mississippi for family members -- to his government credit card. He also withdrew more than $6,000 in cash advances for which he couldn't properly account.

* Flowers didn't have receipts to support 70 percent of the purchases made on his card.

* At least 46 times, Flowers charged personal and staff meals on his card without properly documenting the expenses. The meals totaled $3,198, including $736 for a staff luncheon.

* The office paid $1,798 in late fees, finance charges and other service charges, mostly on Flowers' credit card.

* Flowers approved $15,000 worth of cash advances to two employees, including $6,000 to his administrative assistant, who happens to be his sister.

* State grant money was used to pay consulting fees of $12,000 and $9,400 to two assistant superintendents who did the "extra" work during their regular hours.

* Flowers' nephew worked eight hours a day and was paid for nine.

* The office didn't record payroll transactions or reconcile its books regularly, spent state money on ineligible items and had inadequate controls on accounting procedures, property and equipment.

* Despite warnings in previous audits that it had to cut expenses or find new funding sources to stay afloat, the office bought 20 computers ($21,000) and a new phone system ($9,300) to replace the one it bought three years earlier. Payroll expenses grew by $146,000.

Ironically, one of the roles of the regional supt. is to provide a positive example and public relations for the area's schools. While it is unlikely that Dr. Flowers is any more or less corrupt than his predecessor, he has proven that the advanced degree attached to his name was not earned in humility. He was the victor, he took the spoils. He claims to be the victim here. That the excesses he exploited were systemic not personal failings because the bookkeeping software purchased for the ROE was not suitably integrated, things just got a little out of hand and he was working diligently to correct things when he was unceremoniously LOCKED out of his office and arrested.

Ain't life grand? What a shining example to the children. A primer on the playground rules.

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