School Officials Spent Lavishly While District Borrowed, Records Show

At a time when Southern California’s Lennox School District was borrowing money from Los Angeles County to pay its bills, “school officials were allowed to abuse district credit cards because administrators apparently failed to enforce policies requiring them to justify expenses,” the Torrance Daily Breeze reported.

As a result, “thousands of dollars in expenses charged to the credit cards appear questionable,” the newspaper stated, citing records obtained by the Southern California News Group and the district’s new leadership.

Shannon Thomas-Allen, then a member of the school board, often charged $500 to $1,300 per month to her district credit card in 2015 and 2016. From August to December of 2015, she used her card to charge $5,729 “almost entirely at local restaurants, fast-food outlets, and 7-Eleven and Starbucks locations in Hawthorne, Inglewood, El Segundo and Torrance,” Daily Breeze reported, adding: “The trend continued in 2016, with Thomas-Allen essentially using the district as her personal bank account. Thomas-Allen – who, like other board members, earned just $265 a month in salary in 2016 – racked up restaurant charges several times a week, credit card statements show.”

“I’ve never seen anything like it in all my career,” said interim Superintendent Nick Salerno, who has worked in education for 35 years.

Auditors reportedly caught the spending in October 2016 and Thomas-Allen’s card was revoked, but the Daily Breeze said it is “unclear whether she was ever asked to reimburse the district.”

In 2016, the K-8 district – which serves approximately 5,000 students – was beginning to receive loans from the county to pay its bills. The district borrowed $3 million that year, another $4.9 million in 2017 and $7.3 million in 2018. All of the loans have since been paid back in full, but the district now faces a $2.9 million budget shortfall, requiring a $5 million loan from the county, and budget reductions.

The Daily Breeze added:

“According to district policy, school board members can expense charges related to travel during authorized trips on district business. Meal allowances related to travel are limited to $50 per day. Current board member Angela Fajardo has said previously that board members were provided a credit card only during trips to conferences.

“It appears, however, that Thomas-Allen retained her district-issued credit card at all times. Her personal spending was approved by accounting supervisor Leticia Gomez and allowed under then-Superintendent Kent Taylor, who resigned abruptly in April and then committed suicide last month. The district’s chief business officer, Kevin Franklin, also resigned, followed by its chief personnel officer, Hiacynth Martinez.”

Lennox Middle School Principal Lissett Pichardo said Taylor, who was earning $260,000 a year in salary and benefits, was known as a big spender. “I don’t think it was a secret that Mr. Taylor liked to spend lavishly,” she said. For example, if Taylor provided cupcakes for a meeting, they would be the high-priced variety rather than from a local grocery store, Pichardo said. (Source: Torrance Daily Breeze, July 19.)

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