Thursday, May 15, 2014

State lawmakers call on EAA to return money spent on chauffeurs, gas

Posted By on Thu, May 15, 2014 at 2:26 PM

click to enlarge hose_psfjpg
"Full tank, Mr. Convington?"
(Source: Wikimedia Commons) Well, this doesn't seem to be going away just yet.
Detroit — A top House Democrat is calling on Education Achievement Authority Chancellor John Covington to return state money spent on a car used to chauffeur him and other top administrators. ...

“The Education Achievement Authority is not only failing to provide our children with a safe and proper education, it is also squandering taxpayer dollars on illegal expenditures,” Lipton, chairwoman of the House Education Committee, said in a statement.

“I demand that Chancellor Covington return the funds he illegally spent on his chauffeured car service, and that House Republicans finally stand up for Michigan’s kids and taxpayers by seeing that the money is reimbursed.”

John Convington, we should recall, is the man who abruptly left the Kansas City school district he oversaw after failing to instill any improvement whatsoever. Like, things were already bad -- and then under Convington's guidance, the school district lost its accreditation. Under his tenure in Michigan, as superintendent of the Education Achievement Authority, an independent state school district which oversees a dozen flailing Detroit schools, he's continued to produce, uh, lukewarm results.

So how has Convington been conducting business since he arrived? Why, he's been ensuring EAA teachers are being adequately trained! And it costs money to do that!

Nearly $240,000 in travel, gas and IKEA furniture was charged on two credit cards of the chancellor of the Education Achievement Authority in less than two years, records obtained by The Detroit News show. As teachers complained about funding problems so severe they bought supplies with their own money, Chancellor John Covington and his staff charged $178,000 on hotel and airfare traveling to 36 cities from April 2012 to February, according to his credit statements. Also charged: nearly $10,000 in gas for Covington’s chauffered car, $25,000 at IKEA and $8,000 combined at, Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club, Meijer, Home Depot and Lowe’s. In October and November alone, the EAA charged $38,000 to send Covington, staffers and teachers to conferences and seminars in Baltimore, Dallas, New York, Las Vegas, Orlando, Pittsburgh, Salt Lake City, Raleigh, N.C., and Allentown, Pa.

(By the way, let's give a shout-out to The Detroit News investigative reporter Joel Kurth for the bang-up job on that story. Take a moment and read it. Besides the gas and chauffeured car charges, of the more notable points: While Convington was paying $1,200 for teachers to shack up at a Southfield hotel for a training session, some teachers were faced with teaching in a frigid cold classroom without a functioning heather.)

This whole snafu calls to mind the must-see 2013 documentary, "Burn: One Year on the Frontlines of the Battle to Save Detroit." In case you haven't seen it, the film gives you a unique, up-close view of the blazes Detroit's firefighters do battle with day-to-day. The city's new fire commissioner, Donald Austin, was cast as the asshole realist who has to make the unpalatable decisions.

Without divulging too much of the synopsis, there's one scene that Convington should be required to watch in the coming days. There's a moment where Austin is seen vacuuming his office. Why is this significant? The fire department's budget was so out of whack, Austin had to fire his office's one-man janitorial staff. It was a strong visual that illustrated the enormity of the situation.

The EAA's spokesperson told the News that Convington's driver is "far larger than transportation." No context is given. It might be in the superintendent's best interest to review how business is being done.

More by Ryan Felton

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