November 25, 2017-Over the course of the past two years, there have been numerous reports of teachers and staff at Gary Community School Corporation worrying about getting paid on time. Direct deposits were cancelled, and teachers and staff did not know until 3:00 p.m. on Friday whether they would be paid or not. When they were paid, they had to rush their checks to the bank out of fear that some would bounce. In May, 2016, the Gary Crusader reported that Gary school employees forced to wait for paychecks. According to a State Board of Accounts report recently released (see below), the failure to pay employees came just weeks after Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt received a $30,000 bonus check. The State Board of Accounts now says benchmarks that were set for the bonus payment were not detailed. The report requests that Superintendent Pruitt return the $30,000 payment to the School Corporation. At the same time, the School Corporation was withholding federal and state taxes from employee checks but not paying them to the appropriate entities. Retirement account payments and unemployment insurance also were unpaid. Day to day expenses were not being paid including NIPSCO, Gary Sanitary District and insurance.
In addition to the $30,000 cash bonus, Superintendent Pruitt receives a $1,000 per month car allowance that she uses to pay for her shiny new BMW (the photo above was obtained from the internet and is similar). A recent audit report reveals that, despite a state law requiring contracts to be posted, the Gary Community School Corporation did not make the Superintendent Pruitt’s contract publicly available. Details of the contract only became public as a result of the audit and that is when the car allowance came to light. According to the SBOA, the Superintendent also purchased fuel with the school credit card which was in addition to the $1,000 per month car allowance:
Other significant findings of the audit included $7M in excessive payments to the bus company, failure to pay health insurance premiums, and telephone bills. It is hard to imagine a Superintendent being entitled to a bonus under such circumstances and Board Member Carlos Tolliver says there were no standards for the issuance of the bonus. In a letter to the State Board of Accounts, Tolliver states:
“Immediately, upon beginning my GCSC Board tenure on the January 1, 2017, I raised the question of the “Growth Incentive Plan” and the associated “milestones” that would merit bonus payment? I was advised no plan was available for review. I was further advised by Board members, who had standing during this period no plan with milestones was presented, much less approved by the standing Board at that time.”
Tolliver goes on to detail declining school performance and increasing debt as an objective standard that demonstrates no reasonable benchmarks meriting a bonus could have been achieved. “This inquiry is based on factual performance data, which shows the district/school/students’ performance declined during this audit period. Furthermore, the debt of the District increased by tens of million dollars. One could certainly argue, that were it possible, if the superintendent review was based on performance; perhaps a “refund” rather than a “bonus” may have been more appropriate?”
The Audit Report below has been referred to the Office of the Indiana Attorney General and Lake County Prosecutor Bernie Carter. Lake County Prosecutor Bernie Carter has never brought criminal charges against an elected or appointed official as a result of an audit report. Numerous federal successful federal prosecutions have been brought as a result of SBOA Audit Reports. At this time, the issues regarding car allowance, the IRS lien, and other financial irregularities have not been referred for prosecution.
Please tell us what you think in the comments. Do you think the office of Lake County Prosecutor Bernie Carter should begin an investigation of the Gary Community School Corporation? Please let us know in the comments.
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Copyright 2017 The Northwest Indiana Gazette