Hamtown troublemakers

Jul 9, 2003 at 12:00 am
If so much were not at stake, News Hits would have a good chuckle over recent shenanigans in Hamtramck. Instead, we’re shaking our heads over the more than $1 million public school administrators allegedly spent improperly, and how some school board members won’t hold them accountable.

Last year, the school board voted to hire attorney George Ward to investigate whether administrators spent money on building repairs without board authorization. Last month, Ward, formerly the No. 2 man in the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office, issued a report alleging that superintendent Paul Stamatakis and the grounds and building director Dennis Thompson spent more than $1 million — much of it through no-bid contracts and change orders — on school maintenance without receiving required board approval.

"On the surface it looks like they were careless in understanding and sticking to the authority they were granted," Ward says of Thompson and Stamatakis. "If they go beyond the scope of their authority, they are violating the law."

The Wayne County prosecutor, state attorney general and U.S. attorney recently began reviewing records the board turned over, according to board President Camille Colatosti. No criminal charges have been brought against anyone.

Thompson was unavailable for comment; Stamatakis declined to talk about Ward’s report.

Colatosti wasn't so reticent.

"Mr. Ward confirmed many suspicions board members had," she says.

As a result of the financial trouble, Colatosti says, the board had to cancel plans to replace windows in the district’s only middle school. She also says that for the new fiscal year, which began July 1, the superintendent included no funding in the $38 million annual budget for building upkeep.

About 3,600 students attend the district's five schools, two of which are on the state’s failing schools list.

Last month the board told Thompson it would not renew his contract. After he challenged the decision, board members voted 4-3 to keep him on.

"It takes courage to challenge the status quo and in the end they lacked the courage," says Colatosti of the board.

But board treasurer Mark Karpinski says he voted to keep Thompson because he and Stamatakis did nothing wrong.

"He didn’t find anything out of the ordinary," says Karpinski of Ward, whom he voted against hiring. "To me it was mostly board members trying to stir up trouble."

He says that the biggest troublemaker is Colatosti.

"I wish she would be more cooperative," says Karpinski.

Yeah, she can cooperate all the way to the poor house.