You Paid for It: School district furniture dumped in the trash
Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) - The school district is always saying they need more money, but in a Contact 13 Investigation, Darcy Spears looked into how they're spending the funds they already have.
She found dumpsters full of furniture, which some say are your tax dollars in the trash.
Tables, chairs, desks, media carts, bookcases and more leave school grounds and wind up at the District's purchasing warehouse... Stuff you paid for, but they've dumped. Year... after year.
"I started working in the purchasing department in 2009 and I immediately noticed a lot of waste going on."
Elena Rodriguez held an administrative position in the purchasing department from January 2009 through August, 2010. She was demoted and transferred after she says she blew the whistle on waste, and now, she's suing the school district.
Elena is one of eight current and former school district employees Contact 13 has spoken to regarding the furniture being dumped.
Pictures from August, 2011 show three dumpsters full of furniture and more that employees say was set out to be tossed.
"I actually looked at the furniture," Elena says. "They had maybe some dings, maybe some scratches, but nothing critical. This is lightly used furniture that could have been used by any of the 360+ schools we have, or departments, but that wasn't the case."
In addition to the pictures sent to us by employees, we got video of our own on multiple days through August, September and October of this year when more dumpsters were filled with more furniture... Including student desks wrapped in plastic.
"It makes you wonder, them being wrapped in plastic too, it almost looks like they're brand new."
Sharon Lea retired from the Clark County School District after teaching for 24 years.
"They would tell us they didn't have money for crayons, they didn't have money for paper, but they were making these huge purchases of new furniture that we didn't think they needed to make because the stuff we had was perfectly fine."
District policy for surplus items is a four-step process that's clearly laid out on their website.
Furniture that's still usable is first made available to other CCSD schools, then other Nevada school districts. If it's still unclaimed, it's put up for sale to the public who can bid for things on D-Bay, the District's version of Ebay.
They even made a video about it that's posted on CCSD TV.
"If they pass through D-Bay unclaimed, they'll be made available to charitable organizations as the final stage," says Stephen Staggs, Assistant Director of Purchasing & Warehouse in the District's video.
But as we learned, in some cases that's not the final stage. The dumpster is.
Elena: The money that was used to buy all this furniture was taxpayer money.
Darcy: You don't just throw taxpayer money in the trash.
We showed our video to Chief Financial Officer Jeff Weiler, who oversees the Purchasing and Warehouse department.
"We go through a process to assess if it's still safe and usable," Weiler explains. "If it's not, we sell it or recycle it and what you're seeing there are getting ready to be taken off to recycling."
Darcy: Everything that we're seeing here has been deemed an unsafe item?
Darcy: Unsafe how?
Jeff: I couldn't tell you.
Weiler says it could be that a foot on a chair is missing, or a desk is de-laminating and it's not worth repairing.
But he says even though this stuff is all unsafe, it still went through that four-step process.
Darcy: How can we prove that they have gone through the District's process per your policy and have been deemed unsafe?
Jeff: We're telling you that's what's happened. I believe the people that do that. I trust their judgment.
We have to take their word for it because Weiler says, "I don't know that we really have a paper trail for every piece of equipment."
He also says that equipment makes the district money.
"We generate about $400,000 a year that helps balance our budget every year with sales of surplus equipment and recycled items like that."
Turns out that $400,000 isn't income, it's "cost avoidance." Meaning the District avoids spending that amount on new furniture by re-purposing surplus stuff to other schools.
Contact 13 has tried to track what we saw in the dumpster on D-Bay, but we never saw any of the items offered for sale to the public.
Jeff: Ok, well...
Darcy: Which the policy requires, at least as far as the printed School District policy.
Darcy: So if the option isn't even there, how can you say it's been offered for sale to the public?
Jeff: Well, how did you get to it?
Darcy: You can look at it.
But there's no option for the public to purchase anything.
Darcy: Is that our money, our tax dollars in the trash?
Jeff: We want to make sure that whatever equipment, furniture, buildings that we have children in are safe. And that's our primary responsibility. And again, we want to be effective stewards of money and we believe we're doing that.
The District says many surplus items are given to other schools free of charge, but there are some things they sell, which raises an interesting point.
Anything surplus from one school has already been paid for with your tax dollars.
So while it may be-resold to another school at half price, taxpayers are paying for the same item twice.
Over the last two years, the school district spent $1.4 million dollars on new furniture. And a half million more on used furniture re-purposed through the warehouse. We've posted the chart they gave us along with this story.