Where Rudy Crew Flew

Records show Oregon's ex-education chief violated state expense and travel rules.

Rudy Crew was supposed to be the force that shook up Oregon's schools.

Gov. John Kitzhaber christened Crew—who arrived here in June 2012 a national figure—as the state's first education reform czar, paying him $280,000 a year and a $1,000-a-month car allowance.

But Crew, 62, barely lasted a year before he bolted Oregon in June to become president of Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, N.Y. He left plenty of unfinished business and little to show for his time in Oregon.

As it turns out, he didn't spend all that much time here.

Records obtained by WW suggest the governor and the Oregon Education Investment Board left Crew unsupervised in his high-profile job. He jetted to conferences and private speaking engagements in faraway locales such as Alaska and the Bahamas, often flying first class.

On Feb. 13, his calendar shows, Crew charged the state $336 for a town car to shuttle him between Portland International Airport and his Salem home for a trip to Washington, D.C. On that trip, Crew also charged the state $350 to have his ticket upgraded to first class.

On Feb. 21, Angelique Bowers, a state accountant, flagged the expenses as improper. "We are unable to reimburse an employee for airfare other than coach class," Bowers wrote to Crew's assistant. She also said the state would not pick up the car tab.

Crew did not respond to WW for comment.

A spokeswoman for Gov. John Kitzhaber's office says the governor took steps to address issues with Crew's travel. "As soon as we saw it was a problem, the issue was raised with Dr. Crew," says Kitzhaber spokeswoman Amy Wojcicki. 

She says the state does not plan to seek any reimbursement from Crew. "We have come to an agreement on Dr. Crew's separation with the state," she says. "Beyond the terms of this agreement, we are not aware of any additional expenses that the state would seek to reimburse."

But from Crew's calendar and time sheets, it's difficult to determine when he was working and when he was not.

His calendar shows Crew was out of the state at least 63 days in the year he worked here. Crew took 32 vacation days, and was out of the office another 17 days for furloughs, sick leave and personal days.

In all, Crew took at least 17 trips out of state—some paid for by taxpayers, others by groups paying to hear him speak—that took him to such cities as New York, Las Vegas and Santa Fe, N.M.

Crew came to Oregon after a series of high-profile jobs: He was chancellor of public schools in New York City and then superintendent in Miami ("Wrecking Crew," WW, Jan. 16, 2013).

Records show, for example, that on Thursday, May 9, Crew flew first class to San Francisco to give a speech to a group called Partners in School Innovation. The next day, he flew to the Bahamas for a Friday kickoff for the Parent Academy at Lyford Cay International School. He gave a keynote speech in Nassau the next day.

Crew's time sheets show he reported both days as work days. Neither the San Francisco nor Bahamas event had any apparent connection to his job. If Crew was in fact working on those trips, state ethics laws prohibited him from traveling first class, even if the host organization paid his expenses.

This spring, Kitzhaber transferred an experienced state administrator, Lisa Van Laanen, into Crew's office to inject some discipline. But she could not figure out how Crew spent his time.

"I am unable to confirm the accuracy of Rudy's time and do not feel like I am able to sign authorizing these hours," Van Laanen wrote on his time sheet June 17. "Maybe it can be routed to the [governor's] office for signature?"

Crew was supposed to implement Kitzhaber's education reforms, which call for 100 percent of students to graduate from high school by 2025.

"He has the courage to do what's right, even if he needs to ruffle a few feathers to do it," Kitzhaber said when he introduced Crew on May 30, 2012.

But Crew had little impact on the state's education system. Lawmakers funded only a fraction of his biggest initiative—$120 million for regional teachers' academies.

Key lawmakers noticed his absences. Crew was scheduled to meet weekly with the co-chairs of the Joint Ways and Means Subcommittee on Education. "He missed at least 50 percent of our scheduled meetings," says Rep. Betty Komp (D-Woodburn), one of the co-chairs. "The governor's staff was doing its best to keep the OEIB's goals moving forward, but their leader [Crew] was missing.”  

WW intern Sara Sneath contributed to this story.