The Beverly Hills Unified School District mistakenly used bond money to pay a Washington, D.C., lobbyist, a blunder that one district official said should not happen again.
“In light of the recent error we caught, I don’t anticipate any incorrectly charged legal bills moving forward,” Assistant Superintendent for Business Services Alex Cherniss told Patch in an email.
The Board of Education voted 4-1 last week to transfer $23,886.41 from its general fund to the Measure E fund to reimburse the bond for two bills paid to Venable LLP, which was hired by BHUSD to lobby Congress against the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s under Beverly Hills High School as part of the .
The $334 million Measure E bond was passed by voters in 2008 to pay for renovating the five city schools. The funds are not meant to be used for any other purpose.
The spending error was brought to Cherniss’ attention by former board member Myra Lurie, who reviewed hundreds of bills in the weeks before retiring from the school board on Dec. 6. In her last vote as a board member, Lurie voted against the transfer of $23,886.41 because she said the amount was insufficient.
“I don’t think the numbers match,” Lurie said before casting her vote, noting that she also had found a separate open purchase order, or open P.O., to Venable for $25,000 worth of lobbying services. Cherniss, however, said that no reimbursement was necessary in this instance because that $25,000 amount had not been paid out to the lobbying firm.
“The reason for the term ‘open P.O.’ is that this is how the district sets up accounts to be paid when they do not know the exact amount to be charged,” Cherniss said in his email. “The vendor can therefore be paid up to $25,000.”
The two bills that were erroneously paid to Venable from the bond fund were approved by the board, Cherniss said.
At its Sept. 13 meeting, the board unanimously approved a spending report showing a payment to Venable from Measure E funds for $7,639.10. During the board’s Nov. 22 meeting, a report was approved that reflected a payment of $16,257.31 to Venable from the bond. The two bills total $23,886.41.
“There was nothing nefarious about these errors,” Cherniss wrote. “The charging of them to the bond fund was clearly evident for the public and the board to see and in this case, to approve.”
Lurie said the board approved the 64-page report containing at least one of the errors because of a “lack of time or ability to check the 64 pages of tiny type that was most likely placed in our mailbox the night of the meeting.”
She also called on the district to adopt a new policy of making such expense reports available online at least three days before the board considers approving a report.
“Transparent governance and financial practices would be well served by providing board members and the public with access to all detail of the warrant reports online, in a readable fashion, three days prior to the board’s consideration,” she told Patch.
The district is unlikely to adopt such a policy because the reports are too detailed to post online, Cherniss said. He added that reports are delivered to board members the Thursday or Friday before each Tuesday meeting.
New board President Brian Goldberg said that the Citizens Oversight Committee, which is charged with monitoring district bond funds, and the both provide “checks and balances” of district spending.