When it comes to submitting and verifying employee travel expense claims, it appears that the Recovery School District (RSD), in keeping with past performances as reflected in several state audits, is somewhat sloppy in approving what appear to be questionable travel expense reports by RSD employees.
Three unclassified RSD employees submitted itemized expense reports for travel in their personal vehicles covering a single month for one of the employees and multiple months for the remaining two. Though the reports covered at least five days of travel, each report summary sheet appeared to have been completed on a single day.
Even more curious was the uniformity in the case of each traveler’s giving the departure and return times for each trip.
James Delano Ford, Deputy Superintendent for the RSD and who is paid $145,000 per year, listed nine separate trips during April and May of this year. Seven of those trips were from New Orleans to Baton Rouge and one was from New Orleans to Claiborne Parish and the other from New Orleans to Caddo Parish. The latter two trips would involve round trip distances in excess of 600 miles but for all nine trips, Ford listed his departure time on his trip summary sheet as 6 a.m. and his arrival time back in New Orleans as 3 p.m. the same day.
On the individual travel expense statement form, however, he listed his departure time as 6 a.m. and his return time as 6:01 a.m. for each trip.
His trips to Baton Rouge were listed as having been taken on April 11, 16, 18, and 25 and on May 6, 9, and 13. The trip to Caddo Parish was given as April 26 and to Claiborne on April 29.
Tracy Guillory, RSD Executive Director of Achievement at $115,000 per year, claimed only five trips, all for the month of June. Three were to St. Helena Parish on June 11, 18 and 26, and two were to Shreveport on June 7 and 21. The two to Shreveport were to Lanier Academy, the same school visited by Ford in April.
His five individual travel expense statement forms each listed his time of departure as 6 a.m. and his return to New Orleans as 12 noon and his trip summary sheet listed the same departure and return times for the Shreveport trips, two of the St. Helena trips gave departure times as 6:30 a.m. and return times as 8:15 a.m. while the third gave a 6:45 a.m. departure time and a return time of 8:30 a.m.
Dana Peterson, Deputy Superintendent of External Affairs at $125,000 per year, was the busiest traveler, racking up 23 trips from Feb. 19 through June 8.
He is the husband of State Sen. Karen Carter Peterson (D-N.O.) who also is the State Democratic Party Chairperson.
His report included trips to St. Landry on Feb. 19 and March 18 and 21; Pointe Coupee on May 8 and 16, St. Helena on May 9 and Baton Rouge on March 22 and 25, April 1, 5, 9, 12, 16, 17, 18, 24, 25, and 29, May 1, 2, 20, and 21 and June 8.
June 8 was a Saturday.
And while he never bothered to list a departure and arrival time on his trip summary sheet, he, like the other two, was consistent in listing his departure times on each trip as 6 a.m. and his return time as 12 noon.
Eight of Ford’s nine individual trip reports were each computer dated May 21, 2013 with the lone exception being the May 2 date on his Claiborne Parish trip report. One of Tracy Guillory’s individual trip reports was dated July 22 and the other four July 24 while 22 of Peterson’s individual trip reports were stamped July 11. There was no individual trip report for the June 8 trip.
In each individual’s case, RSD Superintendent Patrick Dobard, whose $225,000 salary is second only to Superintendent of Education John White’s $275,000, by his signature, certified that the expense accounts were “just and true,” and each of the travel expense reports was audited by Administrative Business Official Shaundra D. Moore—on May 30 for Ford, July 11 for Peterson and July 29 for Guillory.
State regulations require that whenever a state vehicle is not available, “a rental vehicle should be used…for all travel over 99 miles.” The state’s contract for rental cars is with Enterprise Car Rentals and in an apparent effort to discourage the use of private vehicles, regulations stipulate that for trips of 100 miles or more in a private vehicle, “the traveler will reimbursed for mileage on the basis of 51 cents per mile only, not to exceed a maximum of 99 miles per round trip and/or day.”
Each of the 37 trips made by the three exceeded 100 miles and each charged for the maximum of 99 miles.
Guillory also made nine other trips in September but used a state vehicle for those trips.
With such lax procedures as allowing reports for several months to be compiled and submitted on a single day and with no real oversight in place (each of the travelers was in a senior management position with little or no real supervision), it would seem a simple matter to pad travel expense reports to make up for the 99-mile restriction—especially given the fact that some of these trips exceeded 600 miles round trip.
Why else, considering the cost of fuel these days, would an employee agree to use his or her own vehicle at a reimbursement rate of less than 20 percent of the mileage traveled on those trips to Caddo and Claiborne parishes? It simply does not make sense to do that unless…
And the uniformity of the departure and return times on each of the reports certainly raises additional questions as to their validity. There’s no way to possibly make a trip from New Orleans to Shreveport and back to New Orleans in six hours.
It’s a system that invites abuse.
We’re just sayin’…