Monday, January 25, 2010

CBS Atlanta Investigates: School Money Wasted

CBS Atlanta Asks The Tough Questions, Gets Action

Courtesy CBS Atlanta

ATLANTA -- A CBS Atlanta News investigation is getting action tonight following our Tough Questions about a waste of our school kids money.
The Fulton County School Board voted Thursday night to oust a questionable contractor we exposed was defrauding the school district out of tens of thousands of dollars.

It's now official. The Fulton County School Board voted to rebid their school supply contract.

You may remember CBS Atlanta asked the Tough Questions and exposed Office Depot overcharging the school district for basic school supplies, like pens, pencils and paper.

School board members ducked and dodged our Tough Questions. Now those same public officials are taking a stand against Office Depot after we exposed they were overcharging the schools, and wasting your tax dollars.

"The concerns about the recent pricing oddities have to be considered in our decision not to renew our contract," said Linda Bryant, the Fulton School Board President.

The board’s unanimous vote made it final. The Fulton County Board of Education will not be renewing the contract with Office Depot.

"The board is entrusted to make sure our dollars are used in the most efficient and effective means possible," Bryant continued.

Our exclusive CBS Atlanta Investigation found not only was Fulton County buying school supplies from one of the highest bidders, at a price tag $1.5 million, more than other bidders, we also found Office Depot was charging Fulton County Schools more than the general public for many of those same supplies.

Chief Investigative Reporter Wendy Saltzman asked School CFO Robert Morales about his plans to notify Office Depot about the district's decision. "We have had a phone call with them know that we are going to proceed down this route," Morales said.

The deciding factor to cancel that contract were the pricing concerns CBS Atlanta first uncovered.

"Let's be honest as well, we have some issues regarding pricing difficulties. And so we wanted to make sure taking all of that into consideration that we go ahead and rebid," Morales told us.

As a result of CBS Atlanta's report, the school district was able to recover $23,000 in overcharges from Office Depot. Now the school district will rebid the contract, hoping to get the same supplies for less, saving our kids even more money.
"We look at it as better in several ways, one is pricing, that's one of the first things we look for," Morales continued.

Office Depot has also been accused of overcharging government agencies across the United States and they're under investigation for their questionable pricing tactics in at least five states.

The school district will start taking new bids as soon as possible and in the next few days they will be sending a letter to Office Depot to notify them of their intent to cancel that contract.

Office Depot told CBS Atlanta they had no response to our report.


Anonymous said...

Teachers furloughed, reckless spending of our money, reduced the school year by 10 days, and now band and orchestra will be cut for 4th and 5th graders starting next year. At what point are the taxpayers, the parents going to hold the FCBOE's feet to the fire for wasteful spending of OUR MONEY!!! At what point are the students coming first in this picture?

Anonymous said...

When will they investigate the Katie Reeves/Jan Jones/Richard Wernick deal. Not once, but twice we got screwed and why hasn't anyone investigated that gross overpayment of land for proposed schools. Richard and Katie made out for a long time.

Anonymous said...

They should sell the land on Freemanville, 117 acres is too much land for a middle school. If they don't have the money for school supplies and to pay the teachers and are cutting programs and school days, then how do they have the money to build two more schools?? Are the structures going to be shotty due to lack of funds? What kind of quality of work and building are we getting for our money, and are our children going to be safe in schools that are being built by an organization that screams "we don't have any money!!". Sell the 117 acres and get our children supplies, pay our teachers, and stop cutting programs. They bought that property for $13 + Million didn't they, that should cover what they need right NOW, that is if they can get 1/2 of that right now due to the drop in real estate values. But if you ask the County, the north side of Fulton hasn't experienced devaluation like the rest of the State, RIGHT!!!

Anonymous said...

AMEN!!! I agree totally with above poster.

Anonymous said...

School construction is financed through bond funds and federal funds earmarked for construction and capital improvements. Operating expenses for the BOE are paid for through our property taxes which have been and will continue to be in the near future reduced due to collapsing real estate values. With the declining tax revenue, the BOE doesn't really have a choice but to make the tough choices in reducing operating expenses.

As much as I don't want a school constructed on Freemanville Road, the BOE is not usually in the mode of selling property once they have acquired it. They purchased the Freemanville tract at the height of the market and I am sure they would love to have that back and purchase property at today's values, but that is just not feasible because they would have to sell the Freemanville tract at today's prices. Remember, Milton is greatly oversupplied in lots, therefore raw land values are greatly suppressed since land cannot be converted to income (lot sales) for probably five years.

I would love to have them sell the tract and purchase a smaller tract elsewhere, but I don't see that as the course of action the BOE will take.

Anonymous said...

To the 9:31 poster-

This space is reserved for spluttering, fuming, obsessive rants about the FCBOE. Please try to keep your reasoned, fair comments to yourself.

In the future, only maniacal hyperbole will be allowed on school-related threads.

Anonymous said...

That's all fine, well not fine, but part of how the BOE got into this mess by purchasing these properties at more than the value of at the time of sale by a considerable amount and the story lies in how, why, when, and where - and just how many profited from the sale of both Richard Wernick properties just a few years apart to the BOE in the first place.

Richard Wernick and David Chatham are business associates from what I hear around town. There is a strong connection there. Then, guess what, David Chatham's property is purchased on the old Kirby land at Bethany. Who gives big money for the campaigns of people such as Katie Reeves, Jan Jones, Karen Handel, and Lynne Riley? Then it happens to trickle all the way down to politics here in Milton too. All connected.

The line doesn't even appear to be dotted. It's solid red as blood. But no one says anything. It may not be illegal but the average person paying taxes doesn't know Milton. And the community of Milton would probably like to know this rather than reading the DUI and Arrest page in the local papers.

Investigative reporting holds them accountable. Where else would we get honest answers to what is happening with schools in Milton. Academically they Rock, state of the art classrooms and stadiums and good architecture, so then again, I take it all back. Maybe we shouldn't say anything.

Anonymous said...

To the poster just before me, I am not the poster you are refering to above, and I'm not going to scroll back and look for the damn times on the posts either so you'll just have to figure it out.

Oh and in regards to the above, I'm not ranting I'm...Questioning Authority. Is that okay with you? Please advise.

Anonymous said...

We should all question authority - and rant and rave and fume about our schools.

Yes, our schools are state-of-the-art and physically spectacular in the case of Milton High School.

And yes, Milton schools do ROCK academically compared to other schools in Georgia - but not compared to the top school districts in other states.

We all should be ranting and raving that:
- our schools are overcrowded
- our teachers are being furloughed
- the school year is being cut
- our music programs are being threatened; and
- our money is being wasted on overpriced school supplies and stupid - if not shady - real estate deals.

And don't even get me started about the math program!

Anonymous said...

You are all correct.

Lockwood's Milton, on a little bigger scale:

The Fix Was In’: Obama Donor Gets Sweetheart Real Estate Deal in Chicago

Posted By Bob Gough On January 26, 2010 @ 10:57 am In ACORN, Big Labor, News, Obama, Politics, State Politics | 83 Comments

With much-publicized ties between President Barack Obama, the SEIU labor union and the ACORN volunteer organization, it would be a safe assumption that someone with a business relationship with not just one, but both of those groups would have an inside track on doing business with an Obama associate.

Chicago real estate developer Thomas Bennett thought he had a deal in hand to purchase the old Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) building at 626 West Jackson, just blocks from Union Station. Bennett thought he was paying a fair price for the property as he had a written commitment from two tenants –SEIU and ACORN- to occupy office space in the building.

Bennett-Accepted Letter of Intent re Purchase of 626 West Jackson [1] –

Bennett was dealing with Chicago Housing Authority Chairman Marty Nesbitt on the attempted purchased and put forth an offer of $9 million for the building.

“Occupancy in leasing or their purchasing a few floors that was the model but they were going to occupy,” Bennett said. “When you go in the market with a client, they know what their growth needs would be for a 10-year period. Absent that commitment, I’m not looking at that building. What made this a pragmatic deal was I had commitment from two credible users (SEIU and ACORN). Those don’t come down the road every day. It allowed me to put together a competitive bid. No way was someone going to compete with my bid.”

But Bennett didn’t put forth the winning bid. A company called Sterling Bay properties had the top bid. Actually, top bid is not the proper description. Sterling Bay won with a $7.7 million bid, $1.3 million less than Bennett’s $9 million offer.

“During my dealings, The CHA explained how important a quick, no-due-diligence close was to them,” Bennett said. “Yet they allowed the winning bidder to control the property for 5+ months before closing.”

You go with the highest bid with a party that has a good chance of closing the bid. As a life-long Chicagoan, this was disappointing. After the meeting, I put it in the rearview mirror and tried to move on.”

But later Bennett discovered Nesbitt also had another role: treasurer of the Obama Victory Fund.

Sterling Bay made a substantial campaign contribution ($28,500) to the Obama Victory Fund within months of the deal closing in late December 07. This $28,500 donation was after about $16,000 worth of campaign donations by Sterling Bay principals (Scott Goodman, Andrew Gloor and Craig Golden) to various Obama campaign funds going back to his U.S. Senate bid in 2004.

URLs in this post:

[1] Bennett-Accepted Letter of Intent re Purchase of 626 West Jackson:

[2] 626 W Jackson – Sterling Bay Contributions – Timeline:

Anonymous said...

FCBOE has chosen not to participate in the Race To The Top program that other good GA Counties have chosen to participate in so they receive stimulus money for their schools. FCBOE chooses NOT to participate because they would be regulated and held accountible, and would have the government crawling through and questioning their decisions. The state will recieve $500 Million in stimulus for schools, but our wonderful FCBOE has opted out, stating there may be a pig in a poke. Oh you mean, that they don't want to participate because then they would have to abide by the rules of the Federal government and won't be able to pull the stunts they have been pulling with wasting our money? See the Milton Herald article on this. Katie Reeves doesn't want to participate because they are afraid of what is in the agreement that will expose them, that is the reality of it. See CBS Atlanta News for more info on the FCBOE wasteful spending of our money. Our kids don't come first, their rearends come first.

Anonymous said...

Tthis story has got juice. Let's see how many ties we can untie.

Anonymous said...

To the 5:32 poster:
a) race to the top is not a guaranteed $500 Million. If the state got anything at all, it would be divided among the counties that took part. What makes you think fulton would get more than a million (and how much of that might north fulton get?)

b)much of the school funding comes from the state (as well as property taxes). The state has been cutting school budgets for a decade now, even during the height of the economy. Schools are getting less money to teach the children - it's a wonder we haven't seen furloughs before now!

Anonymous said...

So where is the outrage at Office Depot for ripping us all off?

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Wonder if they invested in Karen's lending company, too?