GEORGIA SCHOOL PRINCIPAL RESIGNS UNDER OFFICE-DEPOT PROBE
GEORGIA SCHOOL PRINCIPAL RESIGNS UNDER OFFICE-DEPOT PROBE
2009-06-16 at 3:39:09 pm #22055
Principal Resigns Under CRCT Probe
CBS Atlanta Investigates: School Waste,Uncovers Millions In Wasteful Spending
ATLANTA — A CBS Atlanta investigation has uncovered a $1.5 million waste of school children’s money.Chief Investigative Reporter Wendy Saltzman exposed more abuse of your tax dollars and confronted school board members about how they’re wasting your money.We’ve learned that not only did Fulton County schools hire one of the most expensive companies to provide the district’s school supplies, but now they’re being overcharged.
School board members may be turning their heads, but we’re not turning ours.
Fulton county’s elected school board members slipped into meetings, ran into bathrooms, and rushed out the door- doing just about everything they could to dodge our questions.“I’m sorry, I need to get into the meeting right now,” said board member Linda Schultz.“I don’t have a comment at this point,” said board member Ashley Widener.“I’m returning from the bathroom to do my job,” said board member Katie Reeves.What got these school board members on the run?
A CBS Atlanta investigation first exposed the school board’s questionable decision to hire Office Depot for their school supply contract.Simple math showed that was a costly choice. Another company offered the exact same supplies for $1.5 million less.”That’s the problem. They are not looking at these contracts. And that’s what makes them look bad and they don’t want to talk about it,” said independent office supply contractor Rick Marlette. “They don’t want to see it. They don’t want to know about it. They don’t want to hear about it.”If that wasn’t enough, with the help of Marlette, CBS Atlanta has now identified more than 100 items the school district paid more for than the general public- a clear violation of their contract.Fulton County paid $249 apiece for 3 printers. The exact same printer cost the general public $199.Fulton County also paid more for pencils, paper, and batteries. Marlette found the school district was overcharged for 145 items.”The total comes out to more than $3,400,” said Marlette.
That wasn’t the only problem. The school district was also charged more than the contractually agreed upon price for 95 items listed in Office Depot’s bidThis isn’t an isolated incident. Office Depot is under investigation in Georgia and across the country for over-charging state agencies for hundreds of thousands of dollars.When we requested interviews with Fulton County’s school board members, they all refused to speak with us, so we went to the school board meeting to get answers.“Susan hale has all the information for you,” said school board member Katie Reeves.Board member Lynda Schultz got police protection from our questions.“I have an appointment with a parent,” said Schultz as police walked her to her car.
CBS Atlanta News tried to show the entire board evidence the school district is being overcharged, but instead of stopping, they tried to dodge us, asked for police escorts, and directed our questions to school spokesperson Susan Hale.“We made a statement with Susan Hale,” said Schultz.The problem is these school board members are the ones who voted to award the contract to office depot, one of the highest bidders – a decision that cost taxpayers $1.5 million.“The entire rubric is available for you from Ms. Hale,” said Reeves.“But you voted for this. Why won’t you be held accountable,” asked Saltzman.“I’m always held accountable,” said Reeves.
School board member Catherine Maddox, dodged our questions as well.
“We have made a statement and Ms. Hale has that statement for you,” said Maddox.If all of the statements made sound too much alike, CBS Atlanta knows why.They were told to avoid our tough questions.Instead of answering our questions, they walked and talked in circles, and directed us to Fulton County’s school spokesperson Susan Hale.
CBS Atlanta got our hands on an email from Hale documenting their goal of avoiding our questions about this waste of your money.Hale is paid with your tax dollars to give the public information, so when we couldn’t get any answers we wanted to know why.”You straight up told them not to talk to us,” said Saltzman.”I did not tell them not to talk to you. I said I did not, I’d prefer that they didn’t. That they had a business meeting to run. And that’s what I did,” said Hale.But Hale’s scheme to side-step our questions is outlined in an email which we obtained through the open records laws. In it, Hale advised the board members “the goal is to get away from [Wendy] (and her cameraman) as soon as possible without seemingly running away.”Running was just what these board members did – into bathrooms, and out the door. Some used police protection in an attempt to evade us.
Hale’s advice continues, “she will try to surprise you and catch you off balance. It will be tempting to answer her questions. She will try to bait you and get you riled up.”"When they are elected officials, why would you advise for them not to speak with us,” asked Saltzman.“This was not the appropriate time for them to speak. We did provide a statement, which is a response,” said Hale.Hale advised board members to “keep from saying anything on camera that could come across as flustered, nervous, or guilty looking.”In fact, they were told not to say anything at all, except “Susan hale has provided us with a statement.””How much money are we paying you for you to provide us with information,” Saltzman asked Hale.”You may file an open records request for that information,” said Hale.So we did. And how much does it cost you to pay Hale to keep information public information private from the taxpayers?
Hale’s salary is $76,000.
School Superintendent Dr. Cindy Loe has now ordered an internal audit of those pricing discrepancies and she’s demanding Office Depot refund the schools money.But now, the school board isn’t just asking for a refund. They may be ousting Office Depot from their school supply contract.”We may decide that we want to go with another supplier,” said Loe. “Every penny counts and the board takes this very seriously. Obviously we’re looking into this.Loe is now organizing an action team to review the entire school supply contract as a result of our report.”We are very concerned that we need to be good stewards of the taxpayer dollars,” said Loe. “As soon as you made us aware of your concerns we started looking into it and we expressed our concern to Office Depot.That review also has the full support of school board chairman Linda Bryant.”After we do this investigation, we will definitely sit down and fix those problems,” said Bryant.
Bryant sat down with CBS Atlanta News to thank us for our investigation and to promise the taxpayers the school district will get their money back.“This board has been and is, good stewards of the taxpayers money,” said Bryant. “We try to make sure that our children get every dime in the classroom. If there is a problem, we are going to fix it.The team will report back to the school board in 60-90 days.We have made multiple attempts to interview Office Depot, but they have declined our repeated requests.