Records obtained yesterday by The Blade from the state auditor's office show that at least one of the investigations ordered by Toledo Public Schools of three former school board members began with a tip from former TPS Superintendent Eugene Sanders.
And the documents reveal that the district made repeated use of a private investigator to check on suspicions about its employees.
In addition, a check paid to the investigative firm for the investigation of two private citizens who were often critical of the school district was signed in 2006 by the current superintendent, John Foley.
TPS officials have stressed in the past week that former TPS business manager Daniel Burns on his own allegedly ordered the investigation of three board members elected in 2005, but the newly obtained records show a much wider involvement in the investigations by top school district administrators.
The affidavit of Steven R. Cotner, a licensed private investigator, was found in the working files of State Auditor Mary Taylor, which were requested by The Blade.
"The second invoice 33905L was for investigative research by Human Resources Manager Clinton Faulkner. Faulkner stated that Superintendent Saunders [sic] received information that one of the newly elected board members had a criminal record that might preclude service on the school board," Mr. Cotner said in the affidavit sworn on Dec. 28.
In the affidavit, Mr. Cotner said he thought the district had a duty to research the allegation.
It was not clear which school board member allegedly had a criminal record, or what the research turned up.
Mr. Sanders did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Mr. Sanders previously has said publicly that he was unaware of Mr. Burns' alleged activities.
Mr. Foley could not be reached for comment.
The records also reveal that current Superintendent Foley and former Treasurer James Fortlage signed a $20,329.45 check June 13, 2006, to pay for four sets of investigations, including the ones of private citizens and board critics Steven Flagg and Francis Dumbaya.
Records show that the district used the private investigation firm to check out tips on employees thought to be abusing sick time or failing to show up as expected from out-of-town assignments.
In one case, an employee who was supposed to be on special assignment to Bowling Green State University was put under surveillance to find out, "what is she doing during the day," according to a case sheet found in the auditor's records and dated February, 2004.
The tip sheet says of the employee, "people have smelled alcohol on her breath during the day" and "she is rumored to never go to BGSU."
The investigation cost $5,150, but the file doesn't reveal whether the employee was attending the program at BGSU or not.
In another case, in January, 2005, a teacher and the teacher's supervisor were supposed to be taking a trip to Italy. The investigator was told, "document their departure - do daily activity checks @ their residences to prove they're gone - collect their trash as soon as they return."
The investigator reported they did not leave on the day they were supposed to depart, but revealed no other findings - or the reason for the inquiry, the records showed.
Ms. Taylor's audit was conducted on the activities of Mr. Burns, a former high-level Toledo Public Schools administrator who is also accused of stealing $660,000 from the district.
Mr. Burns - a 30-year TPS employee indicted last month in the alleged theft of more than $181,000 from the Cleveland school system - reportedly spent $1,571 of TPS taxpayer money to have Corporate Intelligence Consultants of Perrysburg investigate and conduct the criminal background checks in November, 2005, and March, 2006, the state auditor's office said Tuesday.
The firm conducted the checks on three board members before they took office - Darlene Fisher, Robert Torres, and Steven Steel, as well as Mr. Flagg and Mr. Dumbuya, who are both members of TPS watchdog groups.
Mr. Flagg, Ms. Fisher, and Mr. Dumbuya this week blasted the investigations as invasions of their privacy and said they believed others who worked for TPS at the time were aware Mr. Burns had ordered the reports.
Mr. Flagg and Mr. Dumbuya were both critical of Mr. Sanders, who was hired in mid-2006 to run the Cleveland school system and who then hired Mr. Burns to work for him there.
The auditor's special audit, which was released last week, looked at Mr. Burns and TPS from July 1, 2001, to Dec. 31, 2008.
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