Tuesday, May 07, 2013

LEX18 Investigates: Special Ed, Special Perks - Part 1

This from WLEX:
Some parents raise serious ethical questions about how special Ed administrators conduct business, when those same parents say their kids aren't getting all the resources they need to learn.
For some parents, it's a question of accountability and responsibility.

Top special Ed administrators travel to conferences across the country to learn how to better serve their students. But as LEX 18 investigates, those well-intentioned trips may raise serious questions about the overall priorities.
Link to Video:
When it comes to students with special needs, special Ed administrators have the crucial job of choosing what resources to buy and how much to spend. A handful of staff go on business trips, stay in some really nice places and, according to their Facebook pictures, have a really good time.

Some of those pictures show director of special Ed Kathy Dykes in Las Vegas in 2009 at a casino during her tax funded trip for a School Attorneys Conference. The registration cost for that conference was nearly $1,000 per person.

A former employee told LEX18 he and Dykes skipped one of the three conference days and drove nearly five hours away in a convertible they rented to tour the Grand Canyon with Dykes' boyfriend. He says they stopped at the Hoover Dam, too. Dykes admits skipping and the superintendent says he addressed the issue.

One of Dykes' Facebook pictures show her and her boyfriend on the " strip," as the caption reads. Another picture shows Dykes with other administrators "down at the alamo" during a 2012 conference.

About that 2009 trip to Las Vegas, Kathy Dykes contacted LEX18 through a school spokeswoman saying she only skipped a half a day of the conference. When we asked the district when Dykes brought it to Dr. Shelton's attention, we learned it was only after LEX18 reporter's submitted an open records request for her department's spending and travel.

In January of 2013, LEX18 found that tax payers' dollars paid $348 per room a night for a group of five to stay at a lush Orlando resort for a technology conference.

A special Ed employee writes "sittin here in this conference, and I'm thinkn I need my own conference w thought provoking sessions such as: you can't roll a joint on an MP3..." and..."Stripper Economics: Get Your (bleep) Off and Save Money."

"Woo....hoo..." writes another administrator about the hotel accommodations.

"FCPS taxpayer dollars at work" adds a school employee back home. This employee even made a stop at Disney and Epcot, as pictures show.

"When you're talking about the special Ed director making $100,000 a year, I think they do owe it to their constituents to have a certain level of professionalism," said parent Patti Parsons.
Dykes actually makes more than $122,000 a year.

In 2009, Scholastic Incorporated, a book company the school district does lots of business with, invited administrators to a conference in Nashville, where Scholastic Inc. was footing all hotel and registration costs, including the bar bill.

Special Ed administrator Rachel Baker emailed her boss Kathy Dykes stating the following: "Ben (scholastic rep) has us at an open bar. How much more stimulus money do we need to spend? Your reply to this email is authorization:)"

Dykes responds: "I want to know if you all drank enough to equal the amount of money we have spent -- somewhere around $500,000. Hope you are being wined and dined:) smiley face."

Baker: "He is taking us out to a honky tonk for the night and we intend to invest. You guys would have a blast... poor Ben (scholastic rep) :)"

They invested alright. More than $494,000 before the trip, and the business relationship continues today with hundreds of thousands of dollars spent with the company.

"I didn't really realize there were these cozy relationships going on with people selling things to Fayette County Public Schools. Even if it wasn't against the law, it's very unethical," Parsons said.
Another parent, Wade Mullins, also feels uncomfortable with how tax payers' money is being spent.
"It speaks to the culture of the department," Mullins said, "I think that they feel confident enough to pay that fast and loose with the people's money."

LEX18 has also learned that Dr. Shelton sent out an internal email to all district administrators about LEX18's story.

In that email, he reminds "all" employees to be good stewards of tax payer dollars and reminds all employees they have "professional standards" and need to be careful what they share on Facebook and other social media sites.

You'll hear more about Dr. Shelton's reaction to our investigation on LEX18 News at 11:00.


Wendy Wheeler-Mullins said...

This reporter did a very good job. She raises some good questions as to how tax money is being spent in the special education department at Fayette County Schools. Materials for students should be bought based on whether they are evidenced-based interventions that are proven through verifiable research or scientific evidence to work to improve the learning of kids with disabilities. Not based on gifts to those making decisions about purchasing and the committing of district resources. That is a conflict of interest to take something of value from a business, then spend taxpayers money with that business.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Shelton is out of the country. We begin testing tomorrow! Kathy Dykes does as she pleases with taxpayer money. Accountability? Thanks WLEX for your story tonight.

This is one Beaumont teacher who has no faith in our Board of Education or our superintendent. Sorry, Richard, if I signed my name Kate would not be too happy....

Richard Day said...

: )

Anonymous said...

Ditto for the above. Sped teachers are frowned upon if they put what a student needs such as a para on their IEP (money is the issue). It never has been "all about the kids" which is an insulting phrase.It should be about educating all students and providing a fair and non harrassing workplace for employees.Administrators that are not corrupt would be a plus as well.

Shacecil said...

The therapists in FCPS are required to account for professional development dollars they spend, I imagine.

The Special Education Dept., FCPS, is being fleeced, as usual, by those at the top!

As taxpayers, we should want restitution AND this employee and all cohorts should be fired. They knew they were doing the wrong thing all along!