in Houston, Texas

Tornillo ISD should beef up financial controls, guard against more ‘reckless’ spending by superintendent Paul Vranish: TEA

Thursday, Sep 13, 2012, 08:00AM CST
By Steve Miller
money

The superintendent of the Tornillo Independent School District, Paul Vranish, benefitted by using his position to approve purchase of items that were not sanctioned by his contract, spent public money in a “reckless manner,” and submitted the same hotel invoice twice for reimbursement, according to a state audit.

The final investigative report from the Texas Education Agency notes financial lapses at the district and suggests at several points that Vranish may have violated numerous codes and laws.

 

The state agency examined $117,394 in reimbursements to Vranish and his wife, also employed by the district, in the 2011 fiscal year, finding $47,909 in questionable costs.

 

Several members of the district’s board of trustees and school system’s lawyer refute the state’s assertions.

 

"We are giving them feedback and expect everything to go away," said Jim Darnell, the attorney representing Vranish.

 

According to the state, which issued its final report Aug. 31, Vranish used travel for the district to earn frequent flier mileage points, then used those points for district travel.

 

“He then requests reimbursement for the miles used by submitting documents that show what that flight would have cost if the district had paid for a regular airline ticket, as well as the associated fees charged to use the frequent flier miles,” the report states. “Because the superintendent is charged with protecting the district’s assets and using them for the benefit of the district’s students, but instead used them in a reckless manner, he may be in violation” of several articles of the Texas Constitution.

Paul VranishPaul Vranish

 

Vranish declined to comment.

 

Among the other findings:

  • “PMV Services sold a 50’ DLP HDTV to (the Tornillo school district) for $1,200 in June 2007. The superintendent provided additional documentation regarding the self-dealing but this transaction is still questionable because it does not appear to be an arm’s length transaction.” PMV Services is a company owned by Vranish. In an interview with Texas Watchdog earlier this year, Vranish explained he operates it part-time as a certified board trainer for school districts.
  • Vranish “authorized a purchase order to purchase a cell phone for himself.” His contract provides that the district pay for his service, not his cell phone. Vranish also purchased a number of other tech items without the proper purchase authorization.
  • Vranish submitted two parking tickets for reimbursement, one at Houston’s Hobby Airport and the other at the El Paso airport. The tickets were issued in relation to a Texas Association of School Boards convention in which all travelers, including Vranish, rode together in a rental car. “Therefore, the reimbursement is questionable,” the report notes.
  • On several occasions, purchase orders were authorized after a purchase had already been made. Numerous items were shipped to Vranish’s home rather than his office, the report states.
  • Several trips were taken without an explanation of what they were for, and trips were reimbursed before they were taken.

See TEA’s analysis of expenses here.

 

TEA concludes the report by demanding new policies at the school district outside El Paso on the state’s western border. Among them, that the district implement new financial controls. The district must hire a forensic auditor to examine the district’s reimbursements to Vranish and his wife, Marla, for the years 2006 through 2011. The district must implement new measures to ensure Vranish reimburses the district for all expenses and ceases using his personal credit card for district-related expenses.

 

Records obtained by Texas Watchdog show the district has continued to defend Vranish. Several trustees in a March 9 letter claimed Vranish’s use of a personal credit card “was well known to everyone.”

 

“…Every year, auditors make a call to a trustee, private from the superintendent, to ask about board member knowledge of operations and possible fraud problems,” states the letter, which is not signed by the entire board but includes several past members.

 

Texas Watchdog reviewed a letter from Douglas Little, of the local accounting firm Little, Roberts and Company, refuting many of the TEA findings. The letter was written at the request of Darnell, Vranish’s lawyer.

 

Darnell calls the investigation and its reports “a crock of baloney.”

 

"I had a CPA go through the report, and he responds to every single one of the allegations," Darnell said. "We've got responses to every single one of the things they found. The report is sloppy to the point of incompentent."

 

In the April 23 letter, Little disputes the charges for the cell phone, saying the auditors ‘offer no argument why these items are inappropriate for Mr. Vranish’s job duties.”

 

He calls the auditor's questions about money Vranish spent to repair a snowmobile an “egregious overreach by the auditor” and says that a snowmobile – a 2007 Polaris - was damaged during a 2008 school trip to Colorado and that a repaid bill of $1,210.33 was put on Vranish’s expense report.

 

“Mr. Vranish owns two snowmobiles, a 1992 and a 1993 model which clearly do not match the description on the repair receipts,” he writes.

 

The school district’s lawyer, S. Anthony Safi, argued in an April 23 letter to the TEA that the selling of frequent flier tickets for district-related travel  “actually resulted in savings to the district.”

 

Safi also questioned the necessity of a forensic audit, calling it a “very significant, unbudgeted expense” that “should be left to the discretion of the school board.”

 

Safi did not return a call. Rachel Avila, president of the Tornillo shcool district board, did not return an email.

 

The TEA ordered the audit earlier this year after receiving complaints from several members of the school board, which is divided 3-3 in its support of Vranish.

 

Vranish resigned in January shortly after the news of the audit broke and received a $276,000 payout, which one report attributed to his contractual arrangement with the district. He’s still running the district, though, since he specified his last day would be June 28, 2013.

 

Vranish has previously left a top job with a school district amid controversy over expenses. He resigned in 1999 from the Lone Oak Independent School District in East Texas after an investigation questioning the district’s financial practices.

 

***

Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or stevemiller@texaswatchdog.org.


Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Scribd, and fan us on YouTube. Join our network on de.licio.us, and put our RSS feeds in your newsreader. We're also on MySpace, Digg, FriendFeed, and tumblr.

Photo of money by flickr user Tax Credits, used via a Creative Commons license.

Comments
teacher
Monday, 12/03/2012 - 06:14AM

Mr. Vranish was put on administrative leave.

Video
KTRK: On Big Screens for Billionaires, Comptroller Susan Combs Silent
Related Blogs and Media
KPRC ND Deborah Collura leaves for WCNC Charlotte Deborah Collura leaves KPRC and Post-Newsweek news gigs for general manager role at WCNC Charlotte Deborah Collura From the old...
Update:2 months 3 weeks
Mike McGuff
Perry and Dewhurst: signs of the times Rick Perry went all out against Ted Cruz for David Dewhurst in 2012 when Dewhurst was seeking higher office. A mere two years later, Perry...
Update:2 months 3 weeks
Rick Perry vs The World
Signs Herald Kirby Dr. Funeral Bars’ Impending Doom Renderings and reports of a giant mixed-use development that would swallow up the entire block on the west side of Kirby Dr. between...
Update:2 months 3 weeks
Swamplot
Potential civil liability for failing to comply with Prison Rape Elimination Act Check out written testimony to the Texas House County Affairs Committee from Texas Criminal Justice Coalition policy attorney Elizabeth...
Update:2 months 3 weeks
Grits for Breakfast
Daily Demolition Report: Altoona Switch Swamplot’s Daily Demolition Report lists buildings that received City of Houston demolition permits the previous weekday. Dig deep into...
Update:2 months 3 weeks
Swamplot
The Rice Hotel’s New Owners; Making Munger St. Sparkle Post Properties Sells Historic Rice Hotel Building to Trammell Crow-Related Entity; Greystar Will Manage Apartments [Prime Property] FMC...
Update:2 months 3 weeks
Swamplot
Sex offender registration shouldn't include 'kidnapping' in child custody disputes At the Austin Statesman, Chuck Lindell reports ("Texan with no sex crime history protests 'sex offender' label," May 3) that two members of...
Update:2 months 3 weeks
Grits for Breakfast
T-Squared: Our Spring Membership Drive Today is the first day of our spring membership drive. It may seem indistinguishable from...
Update:2 months 3 weeks
Texas Tribune
Fort Bend ISD Board Trustee Albright Questioned In Campaign Sign Theft Yvonne Larsen A Fort Bend Independent School District Board Trustee was questioned by City of Meadows Place police early Saturday morning...
Update:2 months 3 weeks
Big Jolly Politics
Mark McCaig: Sid Miller’s Lies Caught on Tape Throughout his campaign for Agriculture Commissioner, former State Representative turned lobbyist Sid Miller has not constrained himself to...
Update:2 months 3 weeks
Big Jolly Politics
Tweets
Karen Townsend | 1 year 11 months
"Patrick F. Kennedy is a career foreign service officer" - http://t.co/GOrCe0IS
Peter Corbett ✈ | 1 year 11 months
I'm at McCarran International Airport (LAS) w/ @almacy http://t.co/KvmId07i
KERA Public Media | 1 year 11 months
TONIGHT at 7pm on KERA TV: Presidential Debate: Learn more at PBS NewsHour. http://t.co/Z9kYdun8
PBS MediaShift | 1 year 11 months
Tech Snafus Make Bill O'Reilly/Jon Stewart 'Rumble' More of a Stumble http://t.co/4OfeBlrG (@kegill | @pbsmediashift) #rumble2012
Will Sullivan | 1 year 11 months
Great addition, been burned too much by bad subs. "Google Play Announces Free Trials For In-App Subscription Services" http://t.co/TOLgRVak
TxDOT | 1 year 11 months
I-35W/North Tarrant Express #constantcontact http://t.co/QDzrQumu
keyetv | 1 year 11 months
Serial shotgun robbers suspects arrested. http://t.co/ka8T4U9B
Karen Townsend | 1 year 11 months
Aren't State Dept career people suppose to be non-partisan? Not the political appointees, the career people. #Libya
© 2014 TEXAS WATCHDOG and USELABS. All Rights Reserved. Terms of Use and Privacy Statement