The Bond, The Audit, Smoke, Mirrors and "Trust Us"

The widely-acclaimed Dallas Independent School District audit will not be made public until after the bond election. According to sources, the audit will show the District to be in "less-than-stellar" shape with the same senior managers making the same mistakes--repeatedly.

It is also reportedly critical of several departments and how these departments use district funds.

"If it were made public [now], [officials] are worried that it might impact the bond," said one person who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

So how did the District respond?

A little over a week ago, DISD called a press conference to introduce two new "co-chief financial officers" Steve Korby and Carolyn Jones. The two will be paid approximately $500,000.

Thanks to a meeting caught on tape, we can meet new "CFO" Carolyn Jones.

Jones, in a very abstract speech, introduced herself as the person who would be "running fiscal transformation for DISD" which she divided into three parts: "very sound financial strategy," "strict controls," and "improved efficiency."

Jones in a detailed yet ambiguous speech promised "clearly articulated goals" but didn't clearly articulate what these golas were.

When asked by a reporter what problems she had found so far, Jones responded: "I've found a number of things."

But perhaps Jones didn't understand the question because her answers from that point didn't make sense.

"I've found that the District is in very sound fiscal condition," Jones started, "I've found that most significantly the tone at the top is very very good--it's very encouraging to us."

"The District is serious about strategy, controls and efficiency," Jones added.

"As far as problems," the reporter pressed, "what have you found so far..."

Again, the term "problems" seemed to confuse Jones.

"I have to say that I have found really a cooperative environment here," Jones replied.

"I think we have shared goals and simplifying; making things more efficient [...] and the tone at the top is good," she continued, "[...] I've found that everybody here is serious."

Other reporters tried to pin her down regarding about what was wrong and in need of repair. Jones continued to remain elusive and sidestepped questions while praising those "at the top."

Jones indicated that strict controls would be put into place. As an example, she referred to a past position where her department began reviewing every purchase order "that came in." The process resulted in, according to Jones, not "quite as many purchase orders."

"That's an example," Jones said of the process, "of a positive tone at the top reflecting down into the ranks to save the taxpayers money and get the true spendings that need be spent back to the schools."

Jones was asked "shouldn't purchase orders be reviewed anyway?"

Jones replied: "they are reviewed anyway [...] they're always reviewed and, in fact, there's an automated review of purchase orders."

Jones continued to appear somewhat confused and evasive until Superintendent Michael Hinojosa stepped in and saved her by redirecting attention to Tom Canby who he earlier referred to as one of the foremost "experts" in the state in "school finance."

Canby will be paid up to $100,000 for his expertise though, as is the case with Jones and Korby, it still remains unclear exactly what his job's deliverables will be.


Editorial

After listening to the tape of this "press conference," it appeared to me that the District was attempting window dressing for the upcoming bond election.

Carolyn Jones, one of the 2 lucky individuals selected to split a half-million dollars in taxpayer money was evasive.

Thanks to the press who attended, however, Jones' flashy smoke screen didn't work.

What about the audit? Reporter extraordinaire Kent Fisher of the Dallas Morning News had this to say about it.

Sources close to the audit have told Dallas.Org that the District is delaying release of some of its information to Deloitte and Touche (the auditors)--thereby delaying the release of the audit.

But back to the bond election, we keep asking ourselves the same question: "is it money needed for education, or is it simply a 'feather in the caps' of some who would like it to pass?"

Put another way, could this bond be a "resume-builder" for senior officials who will be administering the bond?

At the helm will be DISD Chief Operating Officer Eric Anderson. Anderson, in the past, has described himself as "excited" about the prospects of proceeding forward with the bond.

However, in a previous story we did about Anderson, we discovered his next-most-recent achievement was taking his former company through bankruptcy.

Anderson's company apparently ceased operation a short time later.

Anderson, last week, asked trustees for blanket approval of $5 million dollars for Korby and Jones' elusive "fiscal transformation."

When trustees raised eyebrows, Anderson backed down to $250,000 but promised he'd be back for more later.

So we're back to the question: why this press conference? Why the smoke-and-mirrors?

Perhaps we'll eventually get to the real question: why should Dallas homeowners anty-up another $1.3 billion dollars in hard-earned tax dollars (taxes that are already high), and trust the money will be spent for the good of the kids?

Maybe an even better question is: on the heels of scandals and seemingly-endless "hiccups" in judgment, are these administrators ready to tackle the job?