in Houston, Texas
Elgin ISD parent's complaints led to investigation of staff food fund paid for by students' fundraising
Friday, Mar 02, 2012, 11:46AM CST
By Steve Miller
hot dogs

The report from KXAN regarding expenditures at a middle school in Elgin, Texas, is part of a broader drama playing out in the small town 30 miles northeast of Austin. The KXAN story revealed that the principal of the Elgin Middle School, Riza Cooper, had taken money solicited by students for the school and funneled it into a slush fund that bought donuts and hot dogs for teachers and administrators, among other things.

The story was fostered by the complaints of a local resident and parent, Stephanie Lippke, who has three children in the Elgin Independent School District. Lippke, a gadfly and twice failed school board candidate who apparently knows her way around the state’s open records act, late last year filed a complaint over this allocation of the money with the Texas Education Agency.

In January she received a letter from the TEA that concluded there was some misconduct – the district was handing out gift cards to employees without reporting them as income on those employees’ W-2 tax forms.

Based upon our review of the information submitted, we have concluded that the district failed to include the gift cards given to employees on their respective W-2 at the end of the year. Additionally, the district stated that sufficient records were not kept that would identify the individuals that received a gift card and are subject to the additional tax.

According to the response, the district informed its employees that its practice of giving gifts has ceased and also provided those employees with the tax code relating to fringe benefits. Therefore, we are closing the complaint and will deem the file closed unless additional concerns relating to this matter are brought to our attention.

The letter reads, legally, as if it leaves the door open to more investigation.

The local newspaper, the Elgin Courier, on Wednesday published a story that essentially announced all was fine at the district. The police and the district had looked into things and found nothing.

District Superintendent Bill Graves pointed out that the accounts in question, so-called “activity accounts,” are not composed of tax money.

“Activity Accounts are made up of funds raised through various fundraising activities by teachers and students," and "no tax dollars or school district funds have been spent in the monies that Ms. Lippke has complained about,” Graves told the Elgin Courier.

Lippke told Texas Watchdog that she never contended the money was tax money; it’s public money given to students and raised at school events that should be spent on students.

“This is being misappropriated,” Lippke said. “People buy these things like candy and so on expecting that the money will go back toward something for the kids, not donuts for the teachers and staff.”

A school board member, Pete Bega, sent an email to Graves on Wednesday, the same day the KXAN and Elgin Courier stories ran, supporting Graves and Cooper and cc’ing Byron Mitchell, who defeated Lippke for school board in the fall.

“So what is wrong with showing appreciation to our EISD teachers and staff?” Bega wrote. “I am proud to represent our School District as your School Trustee. And Riza, hang your head high.”

Bega declined to comment on his email, saying “I would rather keep my comments between my self and the school district confidential.”

The district did not respond to a request for comment from Texas Watchdog.

It seems that the district is awash in cash, though – it announced raises for administrative staff in September - and wouldn’t need to funnel money solicited by kids into an account that feeds bad food to those same administrators.

Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or

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Photo of hot dogs by flickr user churl, used via a Creative Commons license.

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