Mill Valley College District probes bank card abuse claims

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The funds of the Mill Valley College District are underneath scrutiny amid allegations that directors used the official bank card for questionable bills at accommodations, eating places, retailers and vacationer sights.

The bank card statements embrace some $163,000 in prices from 2014 to 2019, with many receipts lacking. The statements present bills corresponding to a $1,520 sizzling air balloon experience in Napa in 2016; $1,102 for transportation in Wine Nation in 2018; a $2,805 cost at a cooking faculty in 2019; a Netflix account; a Costco membership; groceries at Safeway; and an Amazon Prime account.

Maura Tokarski, a district guardian and former artwork trainer, has been main the drive for an evidence. She obtained the district bank card statements by means of a public information request.

“We don’t know if there’s fraud,” she stated. “They’ve made their bookkeeping so complicated and opaque it’s arduous to determine if there’s fraud, however surely there’s a enormous quantity of waste and lack of transparency.”

The district is making ready to order an unbiased audit. It has additionally contacted the Fiscal Disaster and Administration Help Workforce, a state investigative company, to open an inquiry, stated Michael Advantageous, its chief govt.

Paul Johnson, the district superintendent throughout most of that interval, linked the bills to skilled functions corresponding to coaching occasions, management retreats and journey for job candidate interviews.

Furthermore, he stated, some massive bills have been lined by non-public donors.

“I used to be actually grateful for this help, as faculty districts don’t have these sort of monetary assets,” stated Johnson, now the superintendent of the Los Gatos Union College District. “To suggest that this was a flowery resort misuse is disrespectful to academics.”

Tokarski says the donations, principally from nameless sources, elevate questions on conflicts of curiosity.

The donors included Kenneth Broad of Mill Valley, a district guardian who confirmed that he contributed $5,000 yearly for administration “team-building” occasions such because the balloon experience, the cooking faculty and crusing.

In an electronic mail to Tokarski, he referred to as her complaints “a purple herring.”

“There are clear systemic issues with California’s instructional system and funding, however in the end trivial meal bills aren’t considered one of them,” Broad stated.

Tokarski replied: “You appear intent on brushing apart a whole bunch of extremely suspect prices corresponding to $455 on flowers … along with claiming that $30,000 a 12 months — the equal of a librarian’s wage — is simply too ‘trivial’ so that you can concern your self with.”

The bills included multi-night resort stays in locations corresponding to Yountville, Monterey, Healdsburg, Lake Tahoe and Tomales Bay. Different prices embrace a whole bunch spent at Marin eating places corresponding to Salito’s, Saylor’s, Grilly’s, the Dipsea Cafe and Cafe del Sol, in addition to eating places in San Francisco, Seattle and Southern California.

One assertion reveals a $1,200 buy on Amazon on April 14, 2018, however with no particulars. The statements additionally present a number of over-the-limit charges.

Emily Uhlhorn, president of the Mill Valley College District board, stated the Amazon account is for varsity provides, and the district booked rooms on the Acqua Lodge in 2019 to interview superintendent candidates. She stated it’s widespread follow to guard privateness.

“Honestly, it’s how we get the most effective candidate,” Uhlhorn stated. “The purpose is to rent somebody who’s a sitting superintendent, somebody with expertise. And candidates are sometimes leery of interviewing if there’s an opportunity their present districts may discover out.”

The district trustees have but to authorize a contract for the particular audit.

“The associated fee, as soon as acquired, shall be offered on the board agenda for approval,” stated Superintendent Kimberly Berman.

Berman began as superintendent on July 1, 2019. Many of the prices in query occurred underneath Johnson and an interim superintendent, Raquel Rose. Extra not too long ago, Berman has been signing off on the cardboard statements.

Berman stated she selected to not have a district-issued bank card. She stated the district has a card that’s managed by her govt assistant.

Board coverage states the cardboard can’t be used for private bills. Berman stated bank card use is permitted by the bylaws so long as it’s used for district enterprise.

“When one thing is charged to a district bank card it doesn’t come from basic funds,” she stated. “Relatively, it goes again to the funding supply it got here from.”

The audit could possibly be licensed on the board assembly on March 11.

“The erosion of public belief is troublesome to beat and I feel the district is making a sensible transfer,” stated Mary Jane Burke, the county superintendent of colleges. “The purpose is that if there’s a downside they need to learn about it, and if there isn’t an issue they need the general public to know.”

Rose, who’s now the superintendent of the Kentfield College District, didn’t reply to a request for remark.

Advantageous, the state investigator, declined to remark particularly on the Mill Valley case due to the pending inquiry. However he stated that, generally, as soon as a public company accepts a non-public present or grant, it turns into public cash.

As such, he stated, “all relevant public insurance policies and procedures would apply” for the expenditure and accounting of public funds.

A California Division of Schooling spokesman, in response to an inquiry concerning the bills, stated, “California Schooling Code provides native faculty boards broad authority to find out the appropriateness of faculty district expenditures, offered such expenditures are in step with the legislation and serve the aim of the varsity district.”

“So long as the income supply didn’t prohibit such expenditures, CDE shouldn’t be conscious of something in Schooling Code that may prohibit these actions as you could have described them,” stated the spokesman, Jonathan Mendick.

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