Higher Education

Longtime Purchasing Executive Says Education System Is Fraught with Waste

November 4, 2016

Jay Chilton

By Jay Chilton, CIJ

OKLAHOMA CITY—Alan Neitzel served for nearly 30 years at Rose State College before retiring in December of 2015 as the director of grants and contracts. During his time, Neitzel said he was witness to innumerable instances of fraud and waste at the college, sometimes by his own office. He said that public education at all levels in Oklahoma is fraught with rampant waste, and taxpayers should not give any more money to state-funded education until the dollars they currently receive are handled responsibly and transparently.

“Rose (State College) is dysfunctional,” Neitzel said.

Neitzel told CIJ that multiple grants at the school were never invoiced for money spent for purchases that were not in accordance with the requirements of the grants. As a result, the school—and by extension the taxpayers—paid the balance.

Questionable items paid by the school with taxpayer funds included clothes, jewelry, dental work for students, Thunder tickets, court fines for students found guilty in a court of law, and alcoholic beverages served at lunch meetings for administrators.

Rose State purchased the Traub Elementary School property in recent years from the Midwest City–Del City School District, which was adjacent to the campus of the college on SE 15th Street. According to Neitzel, the former elementary school is now a storage facility to house the unnecessary purchases of supplies and furniture by the college.

“I was told to, ‘protect the president (of Rose State College) at all cost,’” he said. “If I tried to stop anything, I was bullied by vice presidents.”

He said that friends of administrators were often hired to newly created positions and paid to do nothing at taxpayer expense. According to Neitzel, one employee was given a small office in an out-of-the-way area of the campus and paid to play video games for three years before she retired from the school.

“We’re conditioned to spend every penny of our budget,” he said. He explained that if any of the various budgets within the school are found to have money left in them near the end of the fiscal year, the director of the office is told to spend the money on anything they can, in order to ensure that no funds are left.

He said that spending every dollar was required because if the full budget was not spent, then less money would be appropriated the following year. He went on to say that the school was never interested in saving the taxpayers money but rather to spend everything in the budget, so they could demand more money the following year.

“I’m not saying I’m innocent,” Neitzel said. “I was pressured to do the same thing. I had a closet full of paper that won’t get used in five years. I had boxes of hundreds of T-shirts that will never get worn because I had to spend every penny in my budget.”

Steve Anderson, a private-practice CPA who formerly served as a budget analyst in the Oklahoma Office of State Finance, said that spending every dollar of a departmental budget is common practice in public education.

“That’s a given with the way the budgets work,” he said. “It’s one of those conundrums that is both predictable and irritating at the same time. That way, they can claim they need that much the next year.”

Anderson, who is also a research fellow at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, went on to explain that the governing boards intended to control the spending of the institutions are often complicit in the overspending.

“The whole funding mechanism in Oklahoma—particularly in education, because the boards are watching them, but the boards want as much money as they can get—will inevitably produce waste and that sort of foolishness,” he said. “They bulk buy and they buy furniture they don’t need just to make sure they spend all of their money.”

Yet, with what Neitzel described as nearly inexhaustible funds, the graduation rate of the college remained at 12 percent or less during his tenure at the college. A recent uptick in the graduation rate has been realized in the past two years, with 2015 and 2016 reflecting 16 and 18.5 percent respectively.

Multiple telephone calls to Rose State College President Jeanie Webb seeking comment have not been returned.

In all, Neitzel said that he believes K-12 teachers need to be paid an adequate salary and that they should receive a raise. He said that he supported casino legalization, the state lottery and MAPS III because they all promised to be a solution to the presumed financial crisis facing state-funded education. He cannot, however, support the one percent sales tax increase known as State Question 779.

Like the casinos, lottery, and MAPS III, Neitzel said, the one percent hike in sales taxes promises to solve the funding issues facing public education in Oklahoma. But he said that with the passage of every funding plan that he supported in the past, he saw a corresponding increase in waste by the school. No savings were ever possible, because the school administrators required wasteful spending by the department heads to match whatever level of funding the school received.

“Oklahoma children deserve the best,” Neitzel said. “Before we approve additional taxes, the current system must be overhauled to ensure that all state funds are used in a proper and ethical manner.”