BY World's Editorials Writers
Friday, December 28, 2012
12/28/12 at 3:58 AM
The Oklahoma Department of Education is revising the way it solicits and accepts donations from private companies to pay for education conferences, mainly in Oklahoma City.
The action comes in the wake of a critical investigative audit report issued at the end of October by state Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones. He criticized the education department's practice, under state Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi, of using a nonprofit foundation to accept contributions from vendors that do business with the department, including business done through sole-source contracts.
Jones issued an earlier report in which he was critical of similar practices by Barresi's predecessor, Sandy Garrett. He said the education department under Garrett spent $2.3 million over 10 years for privately funded education conferences, some of them quite lavish.
Garrett said she didn't do anything that wasn't checked out in advance and given the green light by attorneys. And there was no suggestion that contributions to the nonprofits were spent for anything but their intended purpose.
Joel Robinson, the education department's chief of staff, said the process of soliciting donations to pay for conferences will be conducted through a website, making it more transparent. Every donation accepted will appear on the state Board of Education's regular meeting agenda and approved by the board.
Robinson said the department will quit using sole-source contracts and that every expenditure will be put out to bid.
That's probably a good idea. Relying on gifts to conduct conferences probably isn't the best way to do business, especially when the donations are from companies interested in getting a state agency's business. But in cash-strapped Oklahoma, the practice most likely will continue.