Natrona County School Officials Explain Spending Report [VIDEO]
UPDATE: We have added a large portion of the press conference where Superintendent Steve Hopkins answers questions in the Forbes article.
Natrona County School District Superintendent Steve Hopkins met with reporters today to talk about the Forbes Magazine investigative article about district credit card expenditures in 2017 that totaled nearly ten million dollars.
Hopkins, and Business Services Director Ryan Kelly held a news conference Saturday morning with local press, and by phone, the author of the article, Adam Andrzejewski.
Hopkins explained that 3 years ago, the district went from issuing purchase orders for any items or travel the district needed, to the use of credit cards. Kelly said they aren't credit cards in the usual sense in that they don't accrue interest charges, but are akin to a debit card. Albeit, a card the district pays off weekly from it's accounts.
The tone of the meeting though, was not defensive, and Hopkins admitted the author had a point in that the district has not been transparent enough with the public and the press. To that end, he announced that the weekly totals of expenses, and charges on the cards, will be made available to the public on the district website.
The district has roughly 2500 employees and 1400 of those can use the district credit cards. Each of them receives training in the proper use and explanations for purchases made with the cards. That includes teachers buying supplies, coaches or others traveling with students for competition or a field trip, or teachers or administrators attending conventions or seminars.
The limit, without prior approval, on the cards is $10,000 for administrators, and $2000 for all others.
Kelly said each purchase must be explained in detail, and approved at the administrative level. There is also a yearly outside audit of the purchase totals.
The article cited several items that were especially glaring like a couple of trips to Las Vegas, Dollywood, Jackson Hole, and other pricey locales.
Both Hopkins and Kelly admitted those probably required more explanation as they were either educator conventions or some student activity, and should be accompanied with more detail since they could be easily misunderstood..
Any purchase by an employee that does not meet the guidelines, they said, would be either returned or reimbursed by the employee.
But they also said that misuse of the cards has not been an issue and any unauthorized use of the cards has been rare and inadvertent.
Far from being angry about the magazine piece, Hopkins said it forces them to look in the mirror and learn something from the experience. He said they will work toward more openness and detail in providing information to the public and the press.
Both men felt the program actually works well, and the concern raised by the article is the result of their failure to properly explain what can appear to be a questionable use of tax money. The first batch of credit card information will go up on the website Monday.