DISD: Those “Questionable Charges” Not Really Questionable

A few days ago we directed your attention to Allen Gwinn’s item on some TDIndustries’ invoices to DISD that seemed out of line. The school district investigated and came back with this report, which seems reasonable to me:

The installation of the alarm systems at W.W. Samuell High School and the Environmental Education Center Agricultural Barn fully complied with the district’s procurement policy. The referenced building located on the Samuell campus is a four-room quad portable, not a double-wide as you indicated. The City of Dallas Fire Marshall rejected the stand-alone system that was initially planned for the W.W. Samuell High School quad portable building, mandating campus-wide connectivity. That increased the total proposed cost from $5,400 to $9,912. 3 companies submitted proposals for this work. One quote came in at $11,235 and another came in at $12,143. TDIndustries submitted the lowest quote for the installation of the fire alarm system at Samuell High School at $9,912 and completed the work in 2006.


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26 responses to “DISD: Those “Questionable Charges” Not Really Questionable”

  1. Joshw says:

    Reading about reasonable charges that DISD made just isn’t that much fun….

  2. Snotty-tot says:

    I’d like to know how much the district spends responding to Gwinn’s who cry wolf.

  3. Jon Dahlander says:

    I’m not sure but, as of today, the district has received approximately 1070 open records requests since January 7 of this year, about 3 a day.

  4. @s-t: I know for a fact Allen Gwinn pays for his open records. He spends major coin down there.

  5. Louisa Meyer says:

    @ Jon, I know YOU work every day for the district hence your calculation of 1070/365. But I look at it this way: Taking into account that 1070 is for 11 months not 12 and using the days the administration office is open (~250), I calculate the average at 5 per day.

    Obviously all requests are not equal. Some take days and weeks to fulfill others take much less but all have some base level of administrative burden though here are some numbers to ponder:

    Administrative employee’s workdays @ 235 per year
    1,200 requests per year
    @ one day per request = 5 fulltime employees.
    Dollarized at an average salary of $52K and we’re spending $250,000 annually to satisfy the curious.

  6. Allen Gwinn says:

    Wick, just a few things.

    I started trying to clarify these issues with Dahlander on November 20.

    He didn’t respond, at all, until Monday after the story was up.

    He didn’t dig up the invoices until today, Thursday, when Channel 8’s story is scheduled to run at 10:00.

  7. Allen Gwinn says:

    Sorry for 2 posts in one night. A few more facts.

    The District received our original request in this matter on October 31.

    We have still not been able to get our hands on the “Ag Barn” invoices.

    We expect to review the first box of invoices from TD Industries next week. This was just made available today.

  8. Louisa Meyer says:

    With 1070 requests per year and when you’re asking for boxes of invoices that are two years old, it seems logical to me that you’d have to wait a few days. Where in the Public Information Act does it state that all requests from Allen Gwinn receive priority?

  9. Louisa Meyer says:

    It seems to me that when procuring boxes of invoices Gwinn could have also asked for the competitive bids. Isn’t that what a real auditor would have done?

  10. Allen Gwinn says:

    Chapter 552.221 describes the procedure.

    Basically, they have a “reasonable” period of time from the receipt of the request to produce the information or, within 10 days, tell you how long it will take. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten anything from DISD, except Board videos, in less than 10 days.

    Subchapter F provides for how people are charged.

    I asked to inspect everything I could get my hands on.

    Louisa, I can’t tell what your angle is here. Are you arguing for closed, private government, or are you trying to voice support for DISD and the contract with TD Industries?

  11. K says:

    @Lousia. In your math for the cost, you excluded the embedded employee costs such as benefits, office space, equipment, etc. Generally, those costs are 30-50% of the employees’ salaries. So, now the cost is between $325-375. Plus, one would suspect that there are a few lawyers reviewing requests and responses to ensure compliance. Assuming their salary is only 50% higher than that of an average DISD employee and it’s easy to assume the cost is at least a half-million per year and probably closer to a million bucks.

    Maybe we should do a FOIA request to determine how much is being spent on FOIA requests.

  12. Allen Gwinn says:

    K… good idea. First off, though, in Texas we have the Texas Public Information Act (Tx Govt. Code, Chapter 552). I’d encourage you to read through it.

    There is an inherent cost to being transparent and running an open government.

    What folks like you and Louisa seem to be suggesting is that we close off government to the public, send them the money and just trust them to do the right thing.

    Then we wouldn’t have to worry about uncovering things like the DISD procurement card abuse (Louisa was on the other side then–congratulating everyone for uncovering the graft and corruption).

    There are several State politicians working to restrict the public’s access to information. Perhaps you should give them your feedback.

  13. Billy says:

    @Louisa I find your antagonism towards Allan and open records hard to reconcile with your years of volunteer service at DISD schools. Allan is a Dallas treasure. He, like you, clearly cares about DISD and making it better. I’ve never him heard say that Jack Lowe or TDI were dishonest.

    Shining a light on good or bad issues is never a bad thing. Spending a tiny fraction of the budget on transparency is money well spent.

    Honest and good people can disagree over whether the district should do business with the companies of board members. But if allowed, that business will always attract more scrutiny than other district business.

  14. Louisa Meyer says:

    @ Allen, Your recollection of my view of the credit card investigation is way off. http://www.texasisd.com/artman/exec/view.cgi?archive=28&num=58292

    @ Billy, I care very much about spending. As a 15 year volunteer, I can sight several examples where the cure or the investigation cost more than the graft. I can also list expenses or management practices, I’ve discovered, that are out of line. I find it more cost effective to share those findings off camera and offline. That’s one huge double standard if I can’t also question Allen.

  15. Allen Gwinn says:

    @ Louisa, you still didn’t answer my question. Are you advocating for closed, secret government?

  16. Louisa Meyer says:

    @ Allen, My apologies. I just read my e-mail archives and I did praise your work at that time. Here’s a flashback to April 2007 when I wrote:
    Thus far, I am under whelmed by what the P card investigation has uncovered in terms of widespread corruption within the district and disgusted by its cost. However, I understand why the new administration commissioned an outside firm in response to the alarms sounded by you and The News. I find the constant self promotion of the DMN investigators and the related media blitz their employer has expended hideous. After all the back slapping, why are you now poking fun of an investigation you encouraged?

    I admired your tenacity with exposes on Bill Rojas, Lois Parrot and Ron Price but am disappointed by the teases you posted yesterday: “In due time” and “Much, much more.” Please save the district time and money and simply come forward with what you know. Otherwise, you run the risk of appearing self serving when I thought your intentions were to serve the best interests of our public schools.

    and Tim Rogers wrote: http://frontburner.dmagazine.com/2007/04/11/message-to-allen-gwinn-relax-friend/

  17. K says:

    @Allen: I never advocated a closed government — on the contrary. All I was noting is that the “inherent cost” you referened is probably a lot higher than what most people would think. Even Louisa’s thoughtful response omitted several significant costs. Your requests for everything you could get your hands on (your words) don’t come cheap and we taxpayers are paying for it — in the exact same way we’re paying for any of the items you’re “investigating.”

  18. Wylie H. says:

    @ Louisa, it seems like you think things shouldn’t be investigated/checked out if the cost exceeds a certain amount. While I understand your rationale, what you ignore entirely is the additional savings attributable to individuals knowing there is a real risk of bad behavior being exposed and consequences being meted out.

    Think about the all-in cost of dealing with a small time thief (say, under $1,000) — it can easily cost the criminal justice system over $30,000 all-in— cost of arrest, transport, holding cell, investigation, prosecution, court administration, etc. I guess you might say, “why bother?” The point is that this creates a huge disincentive to others contemplated taking the same illegal actions.

    If we were to allow a closed environment at DISD, the total costs (in terms of additional graft, corruption, etc.) would be enormous. As it stands, DISD’s current annual budget exceeds $1.6 billion, much of it wasted. If the district is forced to spend $1 million to facilitate transparency and public accountability, that works out to well under 1/10 of 1% of the total budget.

    I’m guessing that $1 million public records cost goes along way in preventing theft, waste, etc. that would be an additional $20 – $50 million per annum. Sounds like money well spent to me.

  19. Sharon Boyd says:

    It costs $$ to investigate, prosecute & incarcerate burglars. It costs $$ to catch, prosecute & incarcerate bank robbers.

    The only thing wrong with what Allen Gwinn is doing for DISD taxpayers is that there’s only one of him. He shouldn’t have to do any of this tedious investigating. The State should have sent people in long before now to CLEAN UP the DISD and divide it into at least 9 smaller districts.

    Allen, don’t quit. DISD taxpayers desperately need you on the job.

  20. Louisa Meyer says:

    @ Allen, Of course I’m for open government. Part of that openness includes my right to ask what you and other seekers of public records are looking at, how often, at what cost and with what motive.

  21. Allen Gwinn says:

    @ Louisa: Good point. I reiterate that the Public Information Act is the law that governs costs and every other aspect of public information. I can tell you for certain, right now, that my requests comply with the provisions of the Act.

    Wylie makes a good point that there are intangibles, on both sides, that can’t really be quantified.

    I would also like to say that what I do is, for the most part, thankless. I, like you, can’t figure out why I even keep doing it.

  22. Billy says:

    @Allan Thanks for all that you. I read your blog and I’ve never left a note of thanks for all your work. My comment earlier to Louisa about antagonism was really about the thankless aspect of what you do, and all the time and money you spend on DISD. I hope you do keep going.

  23. Wylie H. says:

    @Allan: I realize I’ve never thanked you, either. Thank you. You are doing a great service to the community. I wish there were more like you.

  24. Park says:

    While you can do an Open Records Request to determine what items Mr. Gwinn wishes to see, his motives are legally none of your business or the district’s business or the business of anyone else on this planet.

    You and he have the right to inspect public records. If you are against that right, you have the right to join forces with school administrators’ associations, who also don’t want the public looking into what they have done with the public’s money.

    You do not have the right to ask the motivations or purposes of the searches under Texas law. If the request is of the federal government, they may legally ask the purpose.

    You seem to regard any actual investigative reporting done in this school district, whether by traditional media or citizen journalism, as a personal attack on your fiefdom.

    Democracy cannot exist without transparency. Even shades of transparency have not brought accountability to this school district.

    Open Records requests are not half as expensive as the continual corruption that laps up millions of dollars that should have gone to classroom resources.

    As it stands, no citizens have to report their motives to you or anyone else for looking at the documents produced with their tax monies.

  25. So Mote It Be says:

    NOTE: It’s On!!! The Roving Picket hits DISD’s 3700 Ross Avenue This Thursday @ 4pm!!! CONFIDENCE VOTE? HINOJOSA MUST GO!!!

    Dallas Independent School District
    Called Board Meeting Agenda and Notice
    Thursday, December 11, 2008
    Board Room, 3700 Ross Ave., Dallas, TX 75204, 4:00 PM

    Notice and Return
    Moment of Silence and Pledge of Allegiance
    CLOSED SESSION – The Board will retire to closed session pursuant to Texas Government Code Section 551 concerning the following sections:

    551.074 to deliberate the appointment, employment, evaluation, reassignment, duties, discipline, or dismissal of a public officer or employee; including evaluation of the performance of the Superintendent of Schools.
    AdjournmentIf, during the course of the meeting covered by this Notice, the Board of Trustees should determine that a closed meeting or session of the Board of Trustees is required, then such closed executive meeting or session as authorized by the Texas Open Meetings Act, Texas Government Code Section 551.001 et seq., will be held by the School Board at the date, hour, and place given in this Notice or as soon after the commencement of the meeting covered by this Notice as the School Board may conveniently meet in such closed or executive meeting or session concerning any and all purposes permitted by the Act, including, but not limited to the following sections and purposes: Texas Government Code Section:

    Private consultation with Board’s attorney.

    Discussing purchase, exchange, lease, or value of real property.

    Discussing negotiated contracts for prospective gifts or donations.

    Discussing personnel or to hear complaints against personnel.

    Considering the deployment, specific occasions for, or implementation of, security personnel or devices.

    Considering discipline of a public school child, or complaint or charge against personnel.

    Considering the standards, guidelines, terms, or conditions the Board will follow, or will instruct its representatives to follow, in consultation with representatives of employee groups.

    Excluding witnesses from a hearing. Should any final action, final decision, or final vote be required in the opinion of the School Board with regard to any matter considered in such closed or executive meeting or session, then the final action, final decision, or final vote shall be either: (a) in the open meeting covered by the Notice upon the reconvening of the public meeting; or(b) at a subsequent public meeting of the School Board upon notice thereof, as the School Board shall determine. SIGN LANGUAGE INTERPRETERS In keeping with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Sign language interpreters are available for this meeting upon twenty-four hour notice to the Board Services Office, (972) 925-3720. The Board of Trustees of the Dallas Independent School District reserves the right to waive any of its policies and/or a part of this agenda, pursuant to policy BF (Local). Meetings are televised live on cable channels 7B, 9B and 12B.Como lo requiere el Acta de Derechos Para los Americanos con Minusvalias, el districto escolar asignará interpretes del lenguaje por señas a personas que asistan a las reuniones de la junta del Consejo Directivo del Distrito Escolar Independiente de Dallas, si llaman a la oficina del secretario de la mesa directiva al (972) 749-2300 con 24 horas de anticipación. El Consejo Directivo del Distrito Escolar Independiente de Dallas se reserva el derecho de renunciar cualquiera de sus normas como parte de su orden del dia, de conformidad con la norma BF (Local). Las juntas serán televisadas en vivo en el sistema de cable por los canales 7B, 9B and 12B.

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  26. I finally agree with Sharon Boyd, there should be more investigating into the practices and management of DISD and more Allen Gwinn’s.

    I submitted a open records request on DISD’s response to Cheese Heroin and they sent me a nice letter charging me $58,000, they should have been transaprent then, after all only 27 DISD students died from Cheese Heroin and thousands more were addicted under Hinojosa’s watch.

    With the financial disaster, it is neccessary to “watchdog” the “too cozy” relationship between Jack Lowe related companies and DISD. If DISD could purchase diamonds Zale Corp would had made a profit instead of losing money.