TPS facility rental revenue up since FBI inquiry halted off-the-books deals
BY ANDREA EGER World Staff Writer
Sunday, March 03, 2013
3/03/13 at 7:08 AM
A review of Tulsa Public Schools records shows revenue generated by facility rentals and leases is growing significantly since off-the-books deals for athletic facility use were halted by a criminal investigation.
Through an Open Records request, the Tulsa World obtained the school district's log of revenue received from rentals and leases for the current fiscal year and found that with four months still remaining, income is already 22 percent higher than the last full year that former Athletic Director Stephanie Spring was employed there.
An administrative shake-up in the fall of 2011 followed by a yearlong FBI investigation recently resulted in federal charges against Spring. She is accused of depositing into a personal account an unspecified amount of money in excess of $5,000 for the rental of school facilities.
School district leaders have said all rental applications and fees should have been handled by the TPS Facilities Utilization Office.
In 2010-11, Spring's last full year with TPS, $269,476 was paid for rentals and leases, but the school district's logs show virtually no payments for athletic facility usage.
Organizers of youth and adult sports groups have told the Tulsa World that they paid thousands of dollars in recent years to play and practice on school property, but all of that came to an abrupt halt when the TPS Athletic Department became embroiled in scandal in 2011-12.
Records show rental and lease revenue declined slightly overall to $253,754 that year, but 19 athletic facility rentals totaling about $9,200 appeared on district logs - and all but two of those occurred after Spring's November 2011 suspension.
Since July 1, TPS has already collected $328,372 for rentals and leases, and the names of youth soccer and football leagues appear next to 65 rental transactions totaling about $27,000. The log runs through Feb. 15, and payments will continue to be logged through the end of the fiscal year on June 30.
Hundreds of emails also obtained through an Open Records request reveal Spring solicited rental fees from individuals who contacted her, directed the amounts of fees collected by an employee at East Central High School and a team booster club official at Memorial High School, and dictated the division of fees between an account called "TPS Athletics," booster club accounts and off-the-books payments to school groundskeepers.
A review of booster club reports filed with TPS found that in one instance, Memorial High School soccer boosters even self-reported the proceeds they were collecting for facility rentals in 2011-12, but apparently that red flag went unnoticed.
The report, signed by then-President Mike Hazel and Treasurer Shelley Clark, included a financial report listing 10 deposits between July and October 2011 for "field rental income" totaling $2,940. The final field rental deposit was made just one month before Spring and her assistant directors were all placed on suspension.
The soccer booster club registered only one other deposit - for $214 from banquet door receipts in May - for the entire year. With total payments out of the account of $2,291 for everything from referee and tournament fees to pizza and cake for the banquet, the field rental income more than covered booster club expenses for the entire year.
Booster club policies vary
Oklahoma statute once required school districts to control all such funds in activity accounts, but it was eventually changed to give districts the option of sanctioning booster clubs, PTAs and the like so they could manage their own funds.
Jenks Public Schools policy still requires the original method. Chief Financial Officer Cody Way said having booster club funds reside within the school activity fund is a win-win situation.
"This has allowed them to operate financially under the district's tax umbrella and avoid certain costs such as additional audit fees and other expenses associated with a group having its own 501(c)(3) (non-profit) status. Operating in this manner also provides the district an additional layer of oversight to help protect these specific funds," Way said.
Mid-Del Public Schools in the Oklahoma City metro area offers its organizations the choice between the district activity fund or the greater independence of district-approved sanctioning.
"Ours is a good process," Superintendent Pam Deering said. "Every year, every booster club must reapply for sanctioning, and officers have to attend a one-hour training session to learn about the board policy and financial reporting requirements.
"We review bank account statements and check registers to ensure there have not been any purchases for any employees, etc. With newbies, we recommend that they first work in the activity fund to learn the process and help them get organized."
Union's school board sanctions its athletic booster clubs and has a highly detailed policy for the practice.
It specifically requires the club officials to file all necessary IRS forms and to attend a sanctioning workshop and authorizes the superintendent, chief financial officer or the Board of Education to require financial and performance audits by an independent accounting firm on an annual basis and to perform spot audits throughout the year.
Union policy also specifically forbids employees from having direct access to booster club bank accounts and from serving as booster club treasurer.
The Tulsa school board also sanctions booster clubs, rather than have them operated through district activity funds. Policy 5707 simply states that board-sanctioned booster clubs "must comply with all state and federal laws as they pertain to equal opportunity and treatment of all students."
"The organization shall comply with applicable law, board policy, and applicable administrative regulations. If the organization refuses to comply with the applicable law, policies, or administrative regulations, it shall not be entitled to utilize the District's property or facilities for any purpose, or provide support to any district program."
When informed about the Memorial soccer booster club records showing the field rental income, Tulsa Superintendent Keith Ballard said the district's response will include a policy review.
"Will we look at the policy? Yes, and we will provide more oversight," he said. "We must be very mindful of our relationships with booster clubs. They are necessary for athletics to survive, but they should be subject to review, and we should be watching all financial transactions."
March court date set for former athletic director
The next court appearance for former Tulsa Public Schools Athletic Director Stephanie Spring has been scheduled for March 14.
Spring was charged Jan. 31 in U.S. District Court in Tulsa with taking an unspecified amount of money exceeding $5,000 for the rental of school facilities that should have been deposited into the school district's general fund. Instead, the charge alleges, Spring deposited the money into her personal account.
On Feb. 12, Spring signed a form waiving her right to have the case presented to a federal grand jury, which could have opted to indict her.
Although Spring's attorney, Allen Smallwood, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Vicki Zemp Behenna have offered no comment about whether Spring is planning to plead guilty, federal cases charged without grand jury involvement customarily result in guilty pleas and not trials.
Spring is on bond awaiting further developments in the case.
The March 14 hearing will be held before U.S. District Judge John Dowdell.
- DAVID HARPER, World Staff Writer
Original Print Headline: Rentals at TPS up after FBI inquiry
Andrea Eger 918-581-8470
Stephanie Spring: The former TPS athletic director is accused of putting TPS facility rental money into a personal account.