The Shakopee Public School District cancelled Superintendent Rod Thompson’s district credit card on Tuesday.
On Tuesday, district spokeswoman Ashley McCray said Thompson's card had been cancelled indefinitely, and would not comment further. Then on Wednesday, she said Thompson made the decision to cancel his district credit card.
The move came amid a Valley News examination of Thompson’s purchase card (commonly called P-card) transactions, which show he made more than 40 personal purchases between April 2015 and July 2016. Thompson reimbursed the district for those purchases in a lump sum of $3,500 on June 30, 2016, when he realized he had accidentally used his district card on several occasions, according to McCray.
The Valley News requested information about whether Thompson has made personal purchases since issuing his reimbursement check last summer, but as of press time the district had not provided additional information.
Making personal purchases is considered a misuse of the district credit card, according to the credit card program manual.
In fulfilling a Valley News open records request, the district provided a log of all the transactions reimbursed by Thompson since April 2015. About half of the transactions did not include receipts. The personal purchases that were accompanied by receipts included items purchased online, like sports memorabilia, several collage frames, two leather messenger bags, a personal genome service, and an Xbox One console that was returned and refunded.
Thompson relayed answers to questions through McCray.
“When reviewing the transaction log, Dr. Thompson realized the P-card (credit card) had been used as a default card when he made purchases through Amazon and PayPal,” McCray said. “Dr. Thompson noticed the issue and noted through the P-card transaction log that he was personally responsible for full payment of these charges.”
Thompson waited to reimburse the district at the end of the 2016 fiscal year because the superintendent’s office was behind in the reconciliation process — the process by which the finance department balances the books. The process was delayed when Thompson’s receipts were not readily available.
“Both the superintendent’s office and finance office were aware payments were going to be made to clear the P-card ledger for the personal and business charges by the end of the school year,” McCray said. “Transmission logs come out monthly, and the finance office would check in on the reconciliation process on a regular basis as well.”
The finance department has since implemented a new reconciliation process that allows the district to scan and upload receipts directly into the BMO Bank P-card system to correspond with individual purchases, McCray said.
“The new practice, which is now being utilized, is more effective and aligns with industry standards,” McCray said.
To avoid unintentional errors in the future, Thompson asked the new director of finance Suzanne Johnson, who starts her job this week, to implement improved procedures, protocols and policies.
“There will be required P-card usage training, led by the finance department, for all district P-card holders to help avoid any unintentional errors in the future,” McCray said.
There are about 105 approved credit card users in the district.
Items shipped to Thompson’s home
While most of Thompson’s credit card purchases were shipped to the district office, some were shipped to his home address. Of those shipped to his home, some were reimbursed and some weren’t.
According to McCray, all the purchases he did not reimburse were brought back to the district office and are in use there.
“The default shipping address on the account was Dr. Thompson’s home,” she said. “Upon receipt by Dr. Thompson, each identified item was immediately delivered to the district office.”
The non-reimbursed purchases that were shipped to Thompson’s home include a 72-pack of Keurig K-cups, a MacBook, MacBook connector cable, an external MacBook battery, a 42-inch LED TV and wall mount, and a Blu-ray combo drive for MacBook.
“The items are used as office and technology supplies,” McCray said. “The Keurig cups are used for the coffee machines in the front office. The laptop was set up by (the technology department) and is used in the district office as a backup device or for presentations. The television is mounted on the wall in the Welcome Center for young children to watch when their older siblings are registering for school.”
School Board Chairman Scott Swanson said the decision to cancel Thompson’s credit card was made independently of the board, but he supports the decision. He expressed hope for the financial future of the district with additional measures for oversight being implemented.
“At this point, Rod is not leading the district from a financial point of view. I think Rod has realized that was likely not in his wheelhouse and has willingly turned over those reins to us,” Swanson said. “Our finance committee, along with our board and our consultant (School Management Services) are in the weeds, and we as a group are making those decisions and leading the district as it relates to finances.”
Shakopee resident Gene Grugal has been following the school finance developments since the multi-million dollar budget errors and shortfall were publicly disclosed in March and has also reviewed some of the card data. Grugal said he agrees with the decision to cancel Thompson’s credit card, but he is skeptical Thompson will regain public trust regarding his financial decisions.
“He has the ultimate responsibility to manage the district’s finances from top to bottom. Thus far, there has been no control at any level of the finances, which has led to massive budget failures, over-spending and misuse of funds,” Grugal said. “There seems to be a lack of remorse for his actions and more of a covering over. He still hasn’t been forthcoming or transparent, but rather addresses items only after they’ve been discovered by those outside the district. That’s really unfortunate.”
A change.org petition calling for Thompson’s resignation cites concerns about Thompson’s lack of transparency and “pattern of fiscal irresponsibility” and also states he has lost community trust. As of Wednesday morning, the petition was signed by 231 people.
While Swanson said he feels disappointed that Thompson has lost the trust of some community members, he noted that 200 people in a town the size of Shakopee is far from a majority.
“Our citizens are certainly entitled to petition for any sort of change that they want. I don’t have a problem with them taking that action to start that petition,” Swanson said. “It doesn’t give me any peace of mind to know that there are vocal individuals who will use that petition to display their lack of trust in Rod. In terms of being part of a community with 40,000 individuals, 200 names is important, but it doesn’t represent the majority.”