Schools can’t explain hefty car benefits

Local,Bill Myers

Fifty-four D.C. Public Schools employees were paid $300,000 to drive their cars in the past three years, but school officials are hard-pressed to explain why those employees got the money.

Records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show employees from midlevel staffers to top executives being paid on seemingly random scales, with large spikes in payments.

"I have more questions than answers," said Mary Levy, a staff attorney and schools expert at the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights.

At least one top official within the school system said that many employees see the allowances as rewards to favorites.

School officials were unable to provide an explanation for why these employees were given car allowances while thousands of other employees were not. Nor could officials explain how the rates were set.

For instance, Dale Talbert, the deputy chief for accountability, has been paid at two different rates — $192.30 per paycheck and $96.15 per paycheck — since May 1, 2004. On June 12, 2004, Talbert was paid $384.60. And on May 1, 2004, he was paid $769.20.

He did not respond to requests for comment.

Janie McCullough, an employee in the human resources department who is rated nine pay scales below Talbert, was paid $444.57 per paycheck from Oct. 18, 2003, until Aug. 6, 2005, the records show.

McCullough could not be reached for comment. Maryann Young is the spokeswoman for the city’s finance office, the agency that handles the schools’ accounting. She said each employee negotiated the car allowance into his or her contract.

But she refused to provide copies of the contracts and did not respond to requests to provide copies of written rules governing how these payouts work. Levy, the schools expert, said she is troubled less by the expenses than by the lack of apparent controls over them.

"Car allowance is a lot less paperwork — if it’s calculated so that people aren’t making a profit on it," she said. "But I have no way of knowing how much these people drive."

That’s true in many places in the schools, where there are few guidelines and fewer internal controls for spending the public’s money, Levy said.

"There’s no policy book," Levy said. "How are you supposed to know what the rules are? If you don't have them compiled and available to everybody, what good are they?"

Earlier this year, the Department of Education rated the schools "high risk" for federal money because the system lacks internal controls and an open accounting system.

Car allowances, Oct. 1, 2004 to Oct. 14, 2006

» Thomas Brady, chief of business operations, $288.46 per paycheck, $14,423 total

» Hitesh Haria, deputy chief business officer, $230.76 per paycheck, $16,153.20 total

» Tony James Demasi, acting executive director of human resources, $253.84 per paycheck, $11,676.64 total

» A Gyimah Chin, executive officer, $253.84 per paycheck, $20,053.36 total

» Abbey Hairston, general counsel, $288.46 per paycheck (includes one-time $1,442.30 payment), total $4,903.82 (since April)

Source: D.C. Public Schools

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