Timeline of questionable activities
State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones has released three audit reports this year that have criticized the administrations of former state schools Superintendent Sandy Garrett and current state schools Superintendent Janet Barresi for the way they have solicited and managed funds used to pay for food, drinks, entertainment and travel associated with state educational conferences. Following is a timeline showing some of the events that have transpired:
• 1990: Sandy Garrett is elected state schools superintendent and begins a 20-year career as head of the state common education system.
• 1997: State Education Department officials decide to form two bank accounts and solicit funds from vendors to pay for food, drinks, entertainment and travel associated with state educational conferences. Officials later said they formed the accounts because state laws constrained them from using state funds to purchase food and beverages for educational conferences. The accounts were set up in the name of the nonprofit Oklahoma Curriculum Improvement Commission, but state education officials reportedly controlled them, and some members of the nonprofit later contended they were completely unaware of the funds.
• January 2011: Garrett leaves office, after deciding not to seek re-election, and is succeeded by newly elected state schools Superintendent Janet Barresi.
• 2011: Barresi orders the two bank accounts closed after discovering the Education Department is paying the Oklahoma State School Boards Association $25,000 a year to maintain them.
• April 2011: Education Department employee Ashley Hahn files paperwork with the secretary of state to create a nonprofit that is later used to hold funds solicited by state employees to fund the Innovation 2011 conference.
• July 2011: Educators from across the state attend the Innovation 2011 conference at the Cox Convention Center paid for almost entirely by $200,000 in private donations and vendor payments to the nonprofit established by Hahn.
• January: State audit is released disclosing that former state schools Assistant Superintendent Misty Kimbrough, who was fired seven months earlier, had falsified a number of documents for travel reimbursement over the course of three years.
• March: The state auditor releases a second state Education Department audit. This one allege that Garrett's administration used two undisclosed bank accounts as "slush funds" for drinks, food, entertainment and travel while hosting state education conferences. The audit says officials spent $2.3 million from these “off-book and unauthorized accounts” over a 10-year period, buying things like wine, beer kegs, a chocolate fountain and smoked salmon mousse in puff pastry. Garrett claimed the audit findings were a misunderstanding and that the attorney general had previously approved of the arrangement.
• March: The Oklahoman disclosed that Barresi's administration also had hosted an education conference in 2011 using private donations and payments solicited from vendors.
• April: The Oklahoman disclosed that more than $100,000 that went into what auditors had described as slush funds was solicited by state education officials from 31 companies that had no-bid contracts with the agency totaling tens of millions of dollars.
• October: The state auditor releases third state Education Department audit. This audit discloses Barresi's administration had committed similar transgressions to Garrett's administration by soliciting and depositing more than $200,000 into an unauthorized bank account, this one purportedly belonging to a private nonprofit organization whose board never met.
RANDY ELLIS, STAFF WRITER