Living High in Palm Beach County

Back to February 2013 Ed Reporter

Living High in Palm Beach County

An audit of Palm Beach County, Florida Schools (PBCS) released in December 2012 showed 85% of schools had some type of financial irregularity in 2011. The district auditor stated that this is actually an improvement from past performance in the district. In 2012 the school board approved GPS navigation systems for buses and raises for teachers. Also, an independent education group found several million dollars spent by the district on unexplained extras. The district faced a $52 million dollar deficit in 2012, according to the Palm Beach Post. (11-16-2011)

The audit found that besides $100,000 in unapproved overtime, there are widespread problems with “purchasing cards” that schools use to buy supplies. Other issues range from carelessness to criminality.

A grand jury indicted a PBCS high school band instructor in 2012 for unwarranted use of $60,000.

Large amounts of money were found to be unaccountably missing from certain schools. $12,000 is missing at an elementary school and the case has been sent to the State Attorney’s office for review. $33,000 is missing from the child-care program at another elementary school for the years 2008-10. The program was investigated by school police and further action is pending.

“Other cases involved thousands of missing dollars, spotty tracking of fundraising cash and outstanding deficits in school funds,” reported the Sun Sentinel. (12-07-12)

Apparently just as clueless about thrift as individual schools, the Palm Beach County School Board in December 2012 approved a $500,000 contract to install GPS on district buses. According to the Palm Beach Post, the system will “track the buses’ locations, speed, and use of stop arms and flashing lights.” The newspaper also noted that the district already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in 2002 on a different GPS system that was “scrapped” a few years later. (12-12-12)

A PBCS district teacher commented, “There are a hundred better ways to spend $500,000. The district does not have the finances to be purchasing a luxury.” (Sun Sentinel, 12-12-12)

On January 9, 2013, the Palm Beach County School Board approved a union contract that gives raises to teachers. Raises are retroactive to the beginning of the school year. Teachers’ raises range “from $678 for new hires up to $4,300 for some of the most experienced teachers. . . . Last year, teachers got a $500 raise and the year before a $500 bonus.” (Palm Beach Post, 12-20-12)

Lavish and unexplained spending by PBCS was uncovered by the Education Action Group (EAG). EAG used an Open Records request to acquire fiscal year 2010-11 credit card and banking records from the Palm Beach County School district.

The EAG investigation found that PBCS officials spent more than a million dollars on cell phones. They spent $685,000 on hotels, and $335,000 on airfare. $66,000 was inexplicably spent on water park tickets – decidedly odd for a county on the Florida coast. Add to this $105,000 spent on pizza, $25,000 spent on movie tickets, and $94,000 paid to Island Oasis Frozen Cocktail Co., and the party atmosphere of PBCS shines through. District officials have so far refused to give any explanation to EAG.

EAG asked, “How can they throw around money in that fashion when they’re facing a $50 million budget deficit that threatens teaching jobs and student programs?” (12-12-2012)