Porter's letter to constituents and supporters

Monday, January 7th 2008, 9:53 pm
By: News 9

Letter to constituents and supporters

Dear Friend:

Thank you for your support of the Oklahoma City Public Schools and of me as superintendent.

I am writing to give you specific information about allegations that were made against me today. Some of these allegations made against me by the school board are new and I learned of them for the first time today through the media. These allegations are wrong or misleading in nearly every respect, but I wanted you to hear about them directly from me. I value your support of me and of our schools, and I wanted to explain this matter and to offer information that sets the record straight.

When I came to Oklahoma City, I pledged to the community that I would be here for nine years to enact a long-term plan to completely revitalize our schools, inside and out. Our top priority in the last six months has been improving student achievement, and I believe we are having success.

But after I served as superintendent for only 90 days of that nine-year plan, the school board chairman suggested I resign. I believe he asked me to resign because he disagrees with my insistence that the school district must change and that it must become more efficient and effective if we are going to create better futures for the children of Oklahoma City.

I made a pledge to the people of Oklahoma City to stay here and work to improve our schools. I refused the school board chairman's suggestion that I resign. I have been told that soon after, the school board chairman ordered an investigation of my handling of school district business. The investigation was completed quietly and behind the scenes. I learned of some of the contents of the investigation on January 3 and read about those allegations the next day in the newspaper. I did not find out about the investigation earlier because the school board sent the letter to a Maryland address where I no longer live. It was not until January 3rd that the letter was delivered. I was in Washington during the holiday with my family. During the course of the private investigation, I was never given the opportunity to respond to any of the allegations.

Here are the allegations reported by the private investigation ordered by the board chairman and my response correcting and clarifying each allegation:


Allegation No. 1. Contract without competitive bidding

The Truth: The school board approved the purchase of the software for all schools on September 4, 2007. The policy of the school district as I understood it did not require a bid. I understood that we followed the very same selection process used by the Oklahoma State Department of Education. The school board itself authorized the purchase, so this allegation is false.

I have used the Wireless Generation program before when I served as Associate/Deputy Superintendent in Montgomery County, Maryland. There is no other vendor that sells Wireless Generation's mCLASS:DIBELS assessment program. As a proprietary solution and consistent with Board Policy (D-14), there was no need to do a request for proposal. This exact program is successful in many other urban districts, including New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Miami-Dade, Boston, Washington DC, Atlanta and Clark County, Nevada.

In a discussion with the school board chairman, I informed him about the district's Wireless Generation program for 2007-08. The Wireless Generation reading diagnostic program has been approved for use in schools all over Oklahoma by the State Department of Education. And research shows that this program works - it helps children to learn to read better. Anything that helps children learn is something our school district should provide for our children. That's what moms and dads expect us to do and it's what we will do.

Because this successful reading program already was used in some of our public schools, my goal was to make it available to every child in grades Kindergarten through third throughout our school district.

The Board was aware of the specific use of the product prior to purchase and it was unanimously approved at that time.


Allegation No. 2. Misuse of administrative activity fund - your expenses

The Truth: This allegation is false because I never directed that monies from a district administrative activity fund be used to reimburse expenditures for these purposes.


Allegation No. 3. Airfare reimbursement for personal trips

The Truth: All three of those air trips were made during the time I was commuting to Oklahoma City as I worked to move here permanently. I believed that I was allowed to have the district pay for that travel as part of my relocation. I never intended to claim reimbursement for any travel expenses that were not appropriate. In July it was my great honor to become superintendent of schools. But that also meant that I had to move my family halfway across the country, from the Washington, DC area. I took the job immediately in July even though my home and family were still in the Washington area. It took many weeks to get my home moved here due to the many challenges facing the district, including the upcoming school year and the upcoming school bond vote.

My contract as superintendent states that my out-of-state travel must not exceed $5,000 a year. But I believed this limit applied once I moved my home to Oklahoma. The allegation that I inappropriately charged the school district for airline tickets is misleading. I did not intend to seek reimbursement for any inappropriate expense and always believe I have followed the appropriate reporting procedures. I would be happy to repay any amount found to have been inadvertently and inappropriately charged to the district.

I have made all my receipts and expenses public in an effort to ensure the community has full knowledge of my work.

Allegation No. 4. First class airfare

The Truth: I do not make my own travel arrangements. With balancing the responsibilities of the district, I felt compelled to instruct my staff to purchase fully refundable tickets in the event district business came up and I was required to change my travel plans. These full fare flights were booked for me during my relocation phase because my schedule as your new superintendent was such that I could not plan these trips ahead of time. When airfare is booked on this basis, it costs more and I was told the full fare coach ticket purchase would allow for upgraded first class seats if they were available. I was also told the short notice, full fare coach price was comparable to a regular first class ticket.


Allegation No. 5. Airfare for Mrs. Porter

The Truth: This allegation is correct. I inadvertently received reimbursement for my wife's flight. This was simply a mistake. When I travel on behalf of the school district, I simply turn all my receipts for expenditures over to the appropriate district officials to sort through and process the reimbursement for appropriate expenses. I would never intentionally seek reimbursement for any inappropriate expense. I will repay the $685.63 to the district now that it has been brought to my attention that I inadvertently was reimbursed for that expense.


Allegation No. 6. Reimbursement for apparent alcohol purchases

The Truth: The investigation came to the conclusion that it was "apparent" that I used district funds to pay for alcohol because some of my expense receipts were at restaurants that also sell alcohol. I never intended to seek any reimbursement whatsoever for any alcohol purchase. That would be wrong and I simply would not do it. As I do with all of my business-related expenses, I simply turned in my receipts to be sorted through and paid as appropriate according to district policies and procedures. I never purposely failed to provide all receipts. If there were any alcohol purchases at all that made it through that process and caused me to be reimbursed inappropriately, I will immediately repay any such cost.


Allegation No. 7. Misuse of activity funds - other issues

The Truth: I officially started my position as superintendent of Oklahoma City Public Schools in July and knew few people on my staff or in the community. On day one, I began organizing meetings to get to know people, including local media, school board members, staff and members of the community.

July 17: All central office staff was invited to the central auditorium for a meeting. This was my first opportunity to meet with everyone who would help me build this district. Breakfast was provided.

August 2: All district principals and a few administrators were invited to a "welcome back to school" meeting. The purpose of the meeting was to provide them with information for the upcoming school year. Breakfast and lunch were provided for approximately 150 people.

August 9: According to the investigative report, this was a district principal's meeting held over two days on August 6-7. I did not schedule and do not believe I attended this meeting. I did not authorize the use of activity funds to pay for the meal included. I do not attend every principal's meeting. This allegation is false.

October 22: The superintendent's leadership team was invited to have an off-site luncheon at the National Western Heritage Museum to discuss team building and improving morale. Team building develops working relationships, improves motivation and communication, and builds trust within the team. Lunch was provided for approximately 17 people.

In November 2007 we proposed to the board a specific policy allowing the use of the central activity fund for the purchase of meals and refreshments. At that time the school board voted not to enact the new policy and instructed us not to spend activity funds in that manner anymore. I was advised to "go raise money" for activities such as the ones above. We immediately stopped the practice of using activity funds and have not used it since. In addition, I never instructed anyone to use activity funds for my travel.


Allegation No. 8. Admiral's Club pass - activity funds

The Truth: This allegation is true. I inadvertently charged the district the $50 and I will repay the money. It was simply a mistake on my part.


Allegation No. 9. Misuse of district personnel - district time

The Truth: The employee worked on the mailbox on his own time and at his own suggestion. He was not on district time. He did that as a favor to me and I appreciate his friendship. This employee did meet service company representatives at my house during work time. This was while I was out of town during my transition to Oklahoma City, and I had no family or anyone else here to help simply make sure that the service company representatives could get into my house to get the utilities started. This employee has helped previous Oklahoma City school superintendents in a similar manner for 10 years. I never intended to do anything wrong in this regard.


Allegation No. 10. Misuse of district personnel - overtime

The Truth: This employee routinely drives me to the airport. I did not authorize overtime for this employee and my signature is not on his time sheet.


Allegation No. 11. In district meal reimbursement

The Truth: I have never been made aware or read a policy that stipulates an itemized receipt for reimbursable expenses be made available for reimbursement. I have always provided the receipts for the reimbursements I sought. The receipts in question all take place within the initial 45 days of my employment.

The largest bills, from July 15, July 17 and July 18, totaling $663.25 of the $943.30 cited in the report were all for meals provided to the independent outside experts from the nationally recognized Broad Foundation who came to Oklahoma City at my request to help evaluate how to make our district better. They performed these services at NO COST to the district which could have potentially cost the district thousands of dollars. I thought it was appropriate the district treat them to dinner.

Allegation No. 12. Failure to take personal days when on personal travel

The Truth: These dates that I traveled were not recorded by my staff. I am ultimately responsible and accept the deduction of these days from my total vacation days for the year.

I am proud to serve as superintendent of schools. It's a tough job that requires 60 or 70 hours a week almost every single week. It is important that I put in that kind of time because we have a lot to do to improve our schools. During the time in question, I was working day and night to get school started, hire new principals, staff my administration, oversee school maintenance, and garner support for the school bond initiative to name a few of my duties. These responsibilities required attention around the clock, including weekends. I gladly executed these responsibilities and have never thought of my job as a nine to five proposition. For a five day spread over four months, I had to be in the Washington, DC area to arrange the moving of my home to Oklahoma City. The chairman knew I was away from the office during those days and I stayed in contact and continued to work while I was away. The few days away from the office were necessary so that I could complete my transition to my new home in Oklahoma City.

Allegation No. 13. Car allowance

The Truth: Because I took the job quickly and came to Oklahoma City right away to begin work, I had to leave my automobile behind in the Washington area. To be superintendent of a large school district such as ours, I had to be able to get around town and meet with staff and parents and to visit schools. For that reason I rented a car to use until my own car arrived. I was only trying to do my job. The board chairman told me he would work to find other dollars to pay the cost of the car after July 1 until I could get my own vehicle here. It certainly was never my intention to seek any reimbursement of any inappropriate expense. While my decision to rent the car was made in the best interests of getting the job done right, I will repay the $1,845.01 in charges to avoid even the appearance of any kind of impropriety.

Allegation No. 14. Parking reimbursement for July 1-7, 2007

The Truth: This allegation is substantially false. I started officially working for the district on July 1, Sunday. I believe this parking reimbursement is for my personal car which I left at the airport at Washington Reagan Airport when I came to Oklahoma City to go to work. I missed my flight leaving Washington Dulles on Saturday, June 30 so I flew from Washington Reagan Airport on July 1 instead. My wife and I traveled together to Oklahoma and she returned to Washington Reagan on July 7 and picked up my car. During the relocation phase, I traveled back and forth several times. I believe this is a reasonable expense, apparently the board thinks differently. We should have resolved this long before now.

Allegation No. 15. Taxi fares

The Truth: These expenses were incurred during my relocation from Washington to Oklahoma City. I believed they were reasonable expenses to seek for reimbursement. I believe they are from the airport to my former home in the Washington DC area.


Allegation No. 16. Excessive turnover

The Truth: This allegation is false. This is another issue that the board and I disagree on. In my view, the turnover was not excessive. I was brought here to bring change. Change for some is uncomfortable. Those that were uncomfortable left.

Allegation No. 17. Relationship with principals

The Truth: This allegation is false. I have a positive relationship with principals and have throughout the course of my entire career. In fact, the leader of the principal's union is a member of my principal's advisory team.


Allegation No. 18. Behavior towards employees

The Truth: This allegation is false. I am a professional and always conduct myself appropriately with employees.


Allegation No. 19. Failure to follow board direction

The Truth: I totally disagree with this allegation. I have worked very hard to follow all school board policies and procedures.


Allegation No. 20. Failure to communicate with board

The Truth: I disagree. As I advised the chairman before I left, I had a family emergency which took me away two days before I had planned to leave for the holidays. This is the only board meeting I have ever missed. This was not an emergency board meeting. The school district was closed for the holidays from December 21, 2007 - January 2, 2008. The meeting was not on a regular meeting day and it was called with very short notice. In my view, my communications with the board have always been timely and effective.


Allegation No. 21. Use of unauthorized pay scale

The Truth: This allegation is false. A school district policy says such a new salary schedule could be put into place with notification to the school board of the change. The human resources director and I notified the school board of the change. It was the only way I could begin to hire some of the people I identified to fill out key executive positions. They accepted these changes on July 2, my first day on the job. The board has approved pay raises based on these schedules without reservation.


Your support and confidence mean the world to me and that's what I wanted to write to you today with this important information. I am going to fight these allegations. I want to participate in a fair and unbiased review of my actions and am confident that the truth will prevail. I hope you will stand with me in this effort.