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The investigation that the district does not want you to know about

Today, we bring you a tale of two reports: one that the district has released and one that the district refuses to release.

When the Buffalo Public Schools hired an accounting firm to assess the risks in its grants department, the findings were rather clear.

In the department that handles about $100 million a year, there's a high likelihood of risk, along with the highest of possible impacts.

In a snapshot, here's what they found:

BPS grants risk

Translation: It can't get much worse.

Here are a few snippets from the report:

- "Several grants either do not have a designated grants administrator, or have the same person designated as grant administrator and grant manager."

In other words, there were no checks and balances.

- A review of purchase orders related to contracted services, "in general, we noted that there was no evidence that the grant administrator or manager had verified that the services listed on the invoice were actually completed before signing the purchase order certification."

Translation: Officials were approving payment for services without even bothering to check whether those services had been rendered.

- "In one instance, the grant administrator stated that he had signed the certification but never verified with the associate involved in the day-to-day management of the contracted services that the agreed-upon deliverables had been completed by the vendor. In speaking with the vendor, we noted that, in fact, the agreed-upon deliverables had not been completed, but the vendor was paid for the work anyway."

Yes. That means in one case, the vendor actually admitted having been paid for work that had not been done.

Here's the full report:

BPS Grants Risk Assessment

All of which brings us to the next report -- the report that led to the firing of Debbie Buckley, the assistant superintendent who oversaw the grants department -- the woman who oversaw $100 million of taxpayer money, in other words.

There's all kinds of rumor and speculation flying around City Hall -- and the supermarket -- about what Buckley did or didn't do, who else might or might not have been involved, and exactly why she was fired.

The truth -- or at least some piece of it, presumably -- lies in a report created by an investigator that the School Board hired in October 2011.

I submitted a Freedom of Information Law request for a copy of that report. Here's the denial letter:

Bps Foil Denial

The crux of their argument, as you can see, is that because the district hired a law firm to conduct the investigation, the report is covered by attorney-client privilege.

Bob Freeman, the state's leading authority on government, says that's ridiculous. The only portions of the report that would be covered by attorney-client privilege are those that contain legal advice.

I appealed the district's denial of my request, and here's what Superintendent Pamela Brown sent me:

BPS FOIL Appeal Denial

If it looks familiar, that's because it's almost exactly the same letter as the initial denial. I'm not sure how much additional legal research they did in between sending the first one and the second one.

It's incredible how tight-lipped the district is about the whole thing.

On Friday morning, I emailed and texted spokeswoman Elena Cala, letting her know I was writing a story about the denial of my FOIL request (at that point, I had not yet received a response to my appeal). I asked if the superintendent wanted to comment for the story. I also asked how many pages were in the report (one board member said it was hundreds of pages long) and how much the board spent on the report (it had authorized up to $10,000 for it).

Cala acknowledged that she had received my questions.

She just never answered them.

Instead, I got an email from the superintendent's secretary, containing the denial of my appeal.

I guess maybe I'll have to file a FOIL request to find out exactly how much taxpayer money the district spent on a report that it refuses to release.

- Mary Pasciak

facebook.com/mary.pasciak     twitter.com/MaryPasciak    [email protected]    

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About School Zone

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee joined The Buffalo News in 2007 and currently covers education and suburban schools. She also writes a column for the City & Region section and previously covered government in Erie County and Niagara Falls. Gee graduated from Boston University with degrees in journalism and political science.

@denisejewellgee | [email protected]


Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes joined The Buffalo News in 2013 and primarily covers the Buffalo Public Schools. She has written about education since 2003 at newspapers in Florida and New York. In 2008, she was a nominated finalist for The Pulitzer Prize. Lankes is an Amherst native and graduate of Sacred Heart Academy and Syracuse University. She started her journalism career writing for the News’ NeXt section.

@TiffanyLankes | [email protected]


Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan has been a cityside reporter for The Buffalo News since 2000 and currently covers the Buffalo Public Schools beat. She previously covered the Williamsville school district and was a full-time education reporter for five years prior to joining The News. She graduated from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

@BNschoolzone | [email protected]


Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams began working for The Buffalo News in 1999 and currently covers Buffalo Public Schools. She formerly was a suburban reporter on the Northtowns beat and has been a cityside reporter covering communities since 2004. Williams has a mass communications degree from Towson University.

@DeidreWilliamsB | [email protected]

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