Grand Prairie’s school board president Terry Brooks says Superintendent Susan Simpson Hull “is worth every penny we pay her and more.” But a report released to the public last week revealed school board members didn’t know how much taxpayer money the district was spending on purchases for their high-salaried superintendent.
Grand Prairie Independent School District’s top administrator receives an annual base salary of $405,795 — the second-highest in the state and the highest in North Texas, according to the Texas Education Association website.
Hull’s total compensation is tens of thousands of dollars more, thanks to perks in her contract like travel and housing allowances and annual “retention supplements” that are set to reach $150,000 in 2019.
GPISD also provides Hull a 2,800-square-foot home on five acres, which she rents from the district for just $1,000 a month after subtracting her $1,000-a-month housing subsidy.
The district paid $694,500 for the property in 2016 to accommodate future expansion of its nearby Garner Fine Arts Academy and plans to demolish the home. Yet Hull spent another $160,000 of taxpayers’ money on renovations and upgrades to the property – expenses the board never approved.
An independent investigation commissioned in June 2017 by then-GPISD board president Steve Pryor into district purchases relating to the residence now occupied by Hull “confirmed that none of the costs related to the renovation of the property were presented to the Board for approval.”
According to a partial report on the investigation released by the board last week:
“Witnesses did not agree on how the decision was made to renovate the house on the property, what projects would be included in the renovations, or who assigned the job to the Bond Program Manager. There is also a dispute as to how the job got assigned to Lincoln Builders.”
The report also says the exact start date of the renovations remains unclear.
“At no point was the full board aware those renovations were taking place,” Pryor said.
Pryor also questions why Hull is leasing the home, saying “the report still doesn’t tell us who made that decision.”
The public has so far only seen a nine-page excerpt of the forensic accountants’ report on their findings in the investigation. That’s all the GPISD board agreed to release during a meeting on May 30. The full report, which the board received in February, is said to include 40 pages plus 800 exhibits.
“I think the community deserves to see the full report,” Pryor told the board at the meeting. He and board vice president Gloria Carillo voted against releasing just a partial report to the public; the remaining five trustees ignored Pryor’s call for greater transparency and voted to let the public see only the excerpt.
Investigators say they interviewed 28 people about specific expenditures related to the property at 4750 South Carrier Parkway where Hull resides, as well as the district’s purchasing policies and procedures during the period of November 2015 through June 2017.
According to their report, investigators were directed to focus on procedures only, not people. “As stated repeatedly by legal counsel, this was not an investigation of personnel; it was an investigation of process.”
This isn’t the first instance of taxpayer funds being abused under Hull’s leadership. Earlier this year, GPISD’s former chief financial officer Carolyn Foster was sentenced to 37 months in prison for embezzling $600,000 from the district. Foster stole cash from “a vault in the GPISD administration building” over the course of a year. The theft was discovered after Foster left the district in 2015. In a statement following Foster’s arrest in August 2016, Hull said the former CFO’s actions “represent a terrible betrayal of the trust placed in a public official.”
Texas Scorecard reported last year on the extraordinary perks the district’s taxpayers are funding for Hull:
“GPISD taxpayers, with a median income of $30,000 per year, probably won’t be too quick to send Hull thank-you cards for ‘helping’ them. This shouldn’t sit well with parents or teachers. The cost of administrative staff, such as Hull’s compensation, comes out of the same bucket that pays for teachers’ salaries.”
One school administrator describes taxpayer-funded perks — like the monthly expense allowances, retention bonuses, and subsidized housing that Hull receives — as “the cost of attracting talent.”
Alton Frailey, a longtime school administrator who’s also served as president of the Texas Association of School Administrators and the American Association of School Administrators, told the local DFW CSB affiliate, “Many communities get a reputation for being a great place to live, so it may cost you less to attract the talent. Others are very challenging to work in, and it will cost you more to have someone even take a look at it.”
GPISD is a relatively small district, serving 29,000 students on 43 campuses. It’s also the largest employer in Grand Prairie with over 4,000 staff members, according to the district website.
Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa oversees a district of 157,000 students and 230 campuses with a ten-member leadership team. Hinojosa is paid an annual base salary of $335,000 and his contract includes none of the cash perks Hull receives.
Following GPISD’s public acknowledgement of unapproved spending on the superintendent’s residence, Brooks expressed continued support for Hull and district staff:
“We are very pleased this report confirms we have an excellent staff that is focused on what’s best for the District and our students. … We are proud to have one of the best superintendents in Texas at the helm of the Grand Prairie Independent School District.”
Superintendent Hull’s current contract with the district runs through 2021.
Brooks said GPISD intends to update its purchasing policies and procedures. It’s unclear if the district will hold any individuals accountable for spending $160,000 of taxpayers’ money on the superintendent’s subsidized residence without board approval, or will release the full report on the investigation to the public, whose tax dollars paid for it.