An investigation by KTVU television station in San Francisco uncovered a variety of suspicious charges on Mill Valley School District credit cards between 2014 and 2019.
The report aired last week and it revealed about $163,000 charged to the cards for expensive meals at restaurants throughout the state and Lake Tahoe, the rental of a yacht, trips to ski resorts and a hot air balloon ride in Sonoma.
Maura Tokarski, a mother and former art teacher, was featured in the KTVU investigation and one of Mill Valley residents concerned about district spending.
“Tokarski started filing public records requests,” the station’s website said. “She and a group of community members reviewed receipts and credit card statements out of fear taxpayers’ money and district funding was being abused.”
“When that is allowed to happen,” Tokarski said, there is a potential for fraud.”
KTVU investigations found that “Financial statements show a host of charges including limo service topping $1,000, a stay at Hotel Yountville for $2,000 and even a Napa hot air balloon ride for more than $1,500.”
William Bailey, one of the parents concerned about the spending said “The reason that we got those funds is not for them to manipulate the books. It’s developed a culture there…of ‘hey we can do this. Nobody is stopping us.’”
The current Mill Valley School District Superintendent Kimberly Berman told KTVU that there’s no evidence of credit card misuse.
“I am very confident in the procedures that we have in place for the funds that are coming into the district and how funds are being expended,” Berman said.
She also said that since she’s become superintendent in 2019, she’s never had a district credit card and does not intend to have one. When asked about specific expenses that appeared extravagant and without school purpose, such as $83 worth of chocolate covered strawberries, Berman told KTVU that “I wouldn’t be able to speak to the purpose of that. But if there was business being done in certain ways or at certain times there are reasons that meals can be provided.”
The policy of the Mill Valley school board is that personal expenses should never be charged to district credit cards, which is why parents can’t figure out how some expenses are related to school business.
“That includes non-itemized receipts to Manhattan Beach restaurants in southern California,” the KTVU report said, “a $200 charge at a Bay Area golf course, a $100 food tour in Healdsburg, and two dozen chocolate covered strawberries costing $83.
KTVU said that when the new superintendent arrived in 2019, the credit cards were taken away from administrators. Neither Berman or the Board would explain the reason behind the change.
The district said it reviews all expenses internally with oversight by the Marin County Office of Education. Again, no issues surrounding expenditures were found.
(You can reach the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org. For home delivery of the Mill Valley Herald, please see page 3A.)