Denver Public Schools board member Arturo Jimenez has notified district officials that he has no intention – contrary to prior comments he has made – to repay the $1,153 by which they say he overspent his personal account last year.
In an e-mail distributed on Wednesday and obtained on Friday by Education News Colorado through a request under the Colorado Open Records Act, Jimenez refers to public discussion of board members’ spending as “ridiculousness, initiated and exaggerated during the most recent campaign season.”
And, he states, “I never incurred any expenses that were not related to my work on the Board. In addition, I have never ‘overspent,’ under Board practice as it existed prior to the new policy clarification.
“Just to clarify once and for all, I will not be ‘paying back’ any expenses to DPS. In fact, much of the expenses that I charged to the DPS Board credit card were expenses that should have properly been charged to other departments in the district.”
Jimenez could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.
The seven DPS board members are permitted to charge up to $5,000 per fiscal year for expenses related to their service to the district. Spending by board members came under scrutiny last year when then-board president Nate Easley confessed at the conclusion of the Aug. 18 board meeting that he believed he had overspent his account by $843, and was writing a check to reimburse the district by that amount.
A subsequent EdNews investigation showed that two board members, Jimenez and Andrea Merida, had both exceeded their limits. Merida’s overage far exceeded that of Jimenez; records showed she had overspent by $7,427, with at least $4,000 of her total going to restaurants and coffee shops. She has defended those expenses as “the cost of community engagement.”
Jimenez initially raised questions about the district’s accounting after the tallies for his overage changed, from $1,623 over down to the $1,153, but said, “If there are overages, I will pay them back.” Merida at first said she would not pay the overage, then quickly reversed herself, before ultimately claiming she had attempted to repay the district, but that Easley had rebuffed her offer – which Easley has denied.
Easley, whose public comments on the issue had triggered the controversy, was ultimately found through recalculations by the district to be under the $5,000 limit by the amount of $202.
In the wake of publicity concerning board member spending, the board passed a new policy Oct. 20 clarifying the way board members’ $5,000 can be spent, how it is to be reported and providing that their spending be posted online quarterly. The policy is not retroactive to the 2010-11 fiscal year, and does not mandate that overages from that year be repaid.
Seawell authored a guest commentary Wednesday in The Denver Post, highlighting the new policy. In the piece, she stated, “It is important to note the Board of Education did not exceed the budget for total board spending last fiscal year.
“The combined amount budgeted for member spending was $35,000 … and the board as a whole came under the amount,” she wrote. “For this reason and because the new policy is not retroactive, no board member is required to repay expenses incurred doing legitimate board business.”
Jimenez wrote to Seawell on Wednesday, copying the board office, Superintendent Tom Boasberg and district legal counsel John Kechriotis, thanking Seawell for “all of the clarification” provided by Seawell’s Post commentary.
“It should have been done earlier in your presidency to avoid repeated embarrassment to the entire district,” he wrote. “Altogether, it is a pleasant surprise that we agree and unpleasant to have to read it online.”
Seawell, at the time that the spending controversy erupted, was the board’s treasurer and in that role she took the lead in fashioning the new spending policy. An at-large representative in her first term on the board, she was elected Nov. 17 by her colleagues to serve as the board president.
In his letter to Seawell and the district, Jimenez also states that he has not signed an authorization to receive a new district credit card and that he is “not sure” he will do so “until you can assure me that procedures are in place so that ‘others,’ and they know who they are, will not be allowed to utilize our board expenditures for political fuel.’’
Jimenez won election to his second four-year term serving northwest Denver in November, holding off challenger Jennifer Draper Carson by a 142-vote margin. His spending did not become an issue in the campaign.
Merida told EdNews in early December that “I am now covering all my own expenses,” including those the board policy stipulates are eligible for reimbursement. Referring to the previous year’s overspending, she said, “that’s how I’m making it right.”
Seawell declined comment on Jimenez’s email.
“My goal was to let people know this board is moving forward together,” she said of her Post commentary. “I don’t think commenting on the specifics of his email is helpful for our relationship or for the board as a whole. ”