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Deep cuts, lavish spending

Taxpayers spent $3,740 for Peralta Community College District Chancellor (and former Oakland mayor) Elihu Harris and his wife to attend Barack Obama’s inauguration. They also covered over $4,000 in personal expenses that Trustee Marcie Hodge racked up on a district credit card before she was asked to repay the money.

Through public records requests, my colleagues Matt Krupnick and Thomas Peele uncovered these spending practices at the local, four-college district – a destination for many Oakland public high school grads. Those findings and others were reported in Sunday’s Tribune and Contra Costa Times.

Interestingly enough, the Peralta trustees willing to be interviewed on the subject claimed ignorance, though they signed off on some of these expenditures. (Oh, and Hodge – whose brother, Jason, served on the Oakland school board – ran for Oakland City Council and the community college board on a stop-wasteful-spending, “clean house” platform.)

So many school districts and agencies have trouble with credit card spending and oversight, I wonder why it’s still a relatively common practice. Oakland school district spokesman Troy Flint said that former State Administrator Randy Ward did away with district credit cards at the outset of the 2003 state takeover, but that they weren’t widely used even before then.

David Kakishiba said Oakland school board members didn’t have credit cards, but that they each used to have about $20,000 to give to schools or use for travel, similar to (but much smaller than) the Oakland City Council’s discretionary “pay-go” accounts. Those have not been re-established.

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • seenitbefore

    More waste at the top. But of course…. cutting direct services to students is how we must balance the budget.

    Shameful.

  • Oakland Teacher

    It is outrageous that during the era of the biggest cuts to the Peralta Community College system, funds are being used frivolously by its so called leader. The articles in Sunday’s paper were far more damning. I hope Peralta students read the articles and demand for resignation(s).

  • Public School Fan

    I don’t think this is anything new. Wasn’t it just several years ago when higher-ups at the College were travelling all over the world and billing it to taxpayers? I seem to remember stories in the papers about this. Wish I could recall all of the details. The wonder to all of this and to many of Oakland’s problems is why we continue to put up with this profligate, irresponsible behavior over and over and over. This city and its citizens seems to bend over backward to find excuses for such conduct. This city has a real problem with holding administrators and others in charge accountable for their conduct. The name of Oakland should be spelled, “cronyism.”

  • Nextset

    You know it’s not stealing if they do it openly with board approval. Why are we surprised at lavish spending by such people? As far as they are concerned they (the board) can rationalize the credit card issuance and the spending on those cards.

    A more prudent policy would be to cancel all the credit cards and tell the board to use their own cards if they have any, and submit claims for reimbursement which can be discussed and voted on at every board meeting.

    But that’s not going to happen.

    We only have the local news media to keep these politicians honest. And the election cycle to reign them in. Katy, please print a list of the board members credit card charges – for all the board.

  • Joe

    Deaf,dumb and blind is what we are. This happens at all levels of politics, and schools are that -political arenas. OUSD, ACOE, CDE, and the feds all spend money like its it-guess what? Not their own.

    How much does OUSD pay for consultants?

  • Katy Murphy

    I linked to only one of the Sunday stories on Peralta colleges, but you can access the others from the same page.

    And yes, there was quite a big international travel controversy a few years ago at Peralta involving Elihu Harris and others. Here’s one Tribune article, from 2005:

    http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4176/is_20050915/ai_n15808882/

  • Public School Fan

    Thanks, Katy, for providing the link to the Peralta College travel scandal. Just reinforces the belief that some things in this city never change.

  • Robert R Whitford

    I feel the Perata Community College Council, Should be ashamed of themselves, for their obvious lack of concern for the Community and students they serve. Your lavish personal expenses are obscene, and a blight on the definition as advocate to education, if you truly were concerened with the students, and their education, you would consider reducing not only your exspenses, but also your board members, and their salaries. I challenge this Council, put your money where your mouth is!