June 30, 2014 at 1:00 am

Interim EAA leader issues new travel, credit card rules

Conforme )

Detroit— The interim chancellor for the Education Achievement Authority announced Monday she has instituted new travel and expense procedures for staff, seven weeks after The Detroit News reported that nearly $240,000 in travel, gas and IKEA furniture was charged on two credit cards of the former chancellor in less than two years.

Veronica Conforme, appointed interim chancellor June 16 after the abrupt departure of John Covington, made the disclosure during the EAA’s board meeting Monday at Wayne County Community College.

“I am aware there are challenges within the EAA. My intent is to face them head on,” Conforme told the board. The new three-page policy outlines limits and the responsibilities of cardholders as well as requirements for approval.

In a letter to principals and staff, Conforme said all travel must be approved by her, effective Tuesday.

“I have revised the guidelines and procedures for using procurement cards, please note a new addition that all (procurement) p-cards will be reviewed every billing cycle by Harry Pianko and Karen Donahue to ensure strict adherence to the policies to ensure fiscal integrity,” the letter states.

The board also approved an employment contract for Conforme that runs through July 31 and pays her $27,083.33 per month. She was granted two days each of sick leave and vacation time and given $2,000 a month for temporary housing. The contract also states that the chancellor’s expense report must be submitted to the board treasurer for verification and reconciliation.

At the meeting, the EAA board approved its 2014-15 budget, which shows a $26.4 million drop in revenues, based on a smaller projected enrollment and millions less in donations. At the same time, EAA officials say expenses for the coming school year will decrease due to the rebidding of key contracts, reduced audit and legal fees and a decline in utility costs.

EAA officials are projecting 7,200 students in the district’s 15 schools this fall. About 6,165 students will attend its 12 direct-run schools while 1,035 will attend its three charter schools, said Pianko, deputy chancellor for fiscal affairs.

In its first year, the EAA served nearly 10,000 students.

Yet, as first reported by The News, enrollment at the EAA dropped 23.6 percent from 9,958 to 7,589 students during its second year of operations.

According to data from the state, enrollment was 6,629 at its 12 schools and 1,030 at the charters as of June 20, for a total of 7,659.

Board member Mike Morris asked Pianko if the EAA’s enrollment projection for the new year was realistic.

“We do believe people are starting to ‘get it’ and we will see an increase,” Pianko said.

For 2014-15, the proposed budget shows “gifts and donations” dropping from $8.3 million in 2014 to $1.5 million for 2015. Overall, revenues are dropping from $112.6 million this year to a proposed $86.2 million in the new fiscal year.

Because the EAA will be in its third year, it has fewer startup costs and revenues, and less grant and foundation money will cover such costs, Pianko said.

Under the proposal, the EAA expects to receive $53.2 million from the state, $29.7 million from the federal government and $2 million in local revenue.