May 21st, 2010 5:33 pm | by BETH SLOVIC News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, Schools

Jefferson Business Manager to PPS Auditor: "Job Was to Keep the Principal out of the Newspaper" (Updated)

Reis Wilbanks

CLARIFICATION: The business manager at Jefferson who is referenced in this report lost her job as a result of a layoff amid budget cuts.

A WW review of new documents surrounding the financial audit at Jefferson High School reveals internal finger-pointing, months of unsound business practices and at least one complaint by a contractor at the North Portland campus before Portland Public Schools put Principal Cynthia Harris and school business manager Reis Wilbanks on paid administrative leave Thursday.

On Nov. 8, 2009, Wilbanks told a Portland Public Schools auditor "her job was to keep the principal out of the newspaper," according to the documents.

That hasn't worked out so well. New documents obtained by WW show:

1. The athletic director at Jefferson in 2008 ordered 42 championship rings at a cost of $5,518 without a purchase order or prior approval. Students were supposed to reimburse the school. However, only "some" of them did.

2. In October 2008, the principal held a $486 "staff retreat" at Kell's downtown without prior approval or documentation to justify the expense.

3. In March 2009, Jefferson bought $433.50 worth of Obama coloring books for Faubion Elementary School. Of that, overnight shipping cost the school $135. That same month, Jefferson paid $125 for a portrait of the president.

4. 0n April 20, 2009, the principal held a retreat at the Avalon Hotel & Spa for 30 people. Only about a dozen people attended, putting the cost at $81 a person.

5. On April 30, 2009, vice principal Ricky Allen asked the school to spend $149.99 replacing a student's iPod. It is unclear why.

6. On May 21, 2009, the principal paid two students $50 apiece for artwork she then put in her office.

7. On May 26, 2009, the principal spent $60.94 at Pier 1 on gifts for Jefferson's Rose Festival princess.

8. On June 11, 2009, the principal paid for a Hawaiian-themed luncheon for teachers for $350 but did not provide a receipt or adequate documentation.

9. In a November 2009 memo the auditor reported that the principal "entered into an agreement with a company Flossin Media to bottle water with the special Jefferson logo on the label as a fundraiser for the Jefferson 100 year event. This fundraiser was not successful; Flossin Media companies went broke, and the water supplier demanded payment of $2,400, although there was no contract." (Update on July 23, 2010: Representatives of Flossin Media called WW this week to say the company did not go broke.)

And here's the complaint by the contractor: Last year, Wilbanks, the principal and Daniel Capuia, a young man who agreed to serve as a mentor and volunteer coordinator at Jefferson, got into a lengthy dispute about his contract. In a lengthy and angry email to Jefferson' principal and to Superintendent Carole Smith, Capuia accused Wilbanks of ineffectiveness. Capuia could not be reached for comment. "I have been patient with Reis [Wilbanks] and have tolerated her shortcomings, but to continue to ignore the issue will only perpetuate mediocrity," he wrote in his Feb. 27, 2009 email.

Wilbanks tells WW today that Capuia's accusations are "completely unfounded." "He was having a lot of difficulty complying with the contractor rules," Wilbanks said. Of Harris, she said, "She's a whirlwind. She's out there with her heart in the right place. But keeping things in order was always after the fact."

Harris has not returned calls seeking comment.

Photo of Wilbanks from Portland Public Schools.
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