It took a while, but Champaign schools finally have a policy in place aimed at eliminating the abuse of district credit cards.
The Champaign school board has put the finishing touches on a spending policy that, for the first time, sets out guidelines for discretionary spending.
The purchasing card — or P-card — policy is clear in its stated goal of establishing a framework aimed at limiting the abuses that were disclosed earlier this year in a series of News-Gazette articles. But the policy places considerable policing responsibility on the school’s superintendent and assistant superintendent to make sure that what happened in the past will not happen again in the future.
To achieve the designed change, the school board policy envisions, they’ll have to keep a leash on P-card spending.
The key language in the policy approved by the school board states that it seeks to “ensure that procurement cards are used as intended by the district by enforcing the following limitations.”
They limit “food purchases to only those events or types of events receiving the prior approval of the superintendent or deputy superintendent,” limit “flower purchases to only those events receiving the prior approval of the superintendent or deputy superintendent” and require “gift cards for employees and students to be purchased through the office of the superintendent or deputy superintendent, limited in value to $20 per card and tracked.”
The News-Gazette reported in May that an examination of 19 months of purchasing card expenditures by 86 district employees showed dozens of employees charged pricey staff dinners, flowers and more.
District staff arranged for catered meals, working lunches and snacks, a $200 retirement print from the Larry Kanfer Gallery, flowers for funerals and thousands of dollars in gift cards for student and staff “incentives.”
The reports prompted public complaints about the alleged abuse of tax dollars. But they did not provoke the number or volume of complaints that taxpayers sometimes make about poor public spending decisions.
Perhaps that is because questionable P-card expenditures cost thousands of dollars, a small sum in comparison to an estimated $30 million (and still counting) in construction cost overruns related to the district’s school construction and renovation plans.
A subsequent audit characterized the many thousands of dollars spent in this manner as reflective of a “culture of hospitality” underwritten by taxpayers.
The new guidelines are intended to modify that culture.
No reasonable person objects to employee gatherings that have an entertainment aspect to them. No one disputes the idea that it’s generous and thoughtful to give a retiring employee a gift. If some district employees want to give other district employees or students gift cards as a form of recognition, fine.
But instead of reaching for P-cards to pay the bills for noneducational spending, the responsible parties can simply pass the hat for contributions. That way, the interests of both the district and taxpayers are preserved and protected.
Everyone will know more about that once this new policy has been in effect for six months to a year.
It’s very important that the P-card spending policy be accepted by all concerned. Support for the public schools by property tax-weary taxpayers is undermined by misuse of tax dollars.