TOPEKA (CAPITOL BUREAU) — The State Board of Education rejected lawmaker’s request to suspend Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis. Dennis is the state’s top school finance official.
On Friday, the State Board of Education held a special meeting after allegations Dennis miss used millions of state dollars.
The board room was packed with dozens of school leaders like Wichita Schools Superintend Alicia Thompson, who traveled to support Dennis.
“He has been an advocate for the students of Kansas for 61 years and why would I not be here to support him,” said Thompson.
The meeting came after House Speaker Ron Ryckman and Senate President Susan Wagle asked for the suspension of Dennis, claiming he overpaid school districts for transportation services for more than 45 years.
“This was not intended to be about him, it was intended to be about our laws,” explained Ryckman, R-Olathe.
Wagle and Ryckman’s request came after a state audit last month showed Dennis overpaid the districts up to $400 million for school transportation. They alleged Dennis was using a calculation not authorized by state law to distribute the money.
“The first question in the post audit was is the law being followed, and the answer was no,” Ryckman explained.
Dennis said he was distributing the transportation payments the way the legislature directed him to in the 1980’s, something many on the State Board agreed with.
“I don’t feel deputy commissioner Dennis ever hid the fact that, that was the agreement,” said board member Kathy Busch of Sedgwick County.
Chairman of the board, Jim Porter, said the formula Dennis was using was understood by lawmakers and educational leaders.
“I have absolute confidence things were done in an appropriate manner,” Porter said.
After two executive sessions, the board recommended to Education Commissioner Randy Watson to keep Dennis employed. Watson has the final decision, board members say they’re confident he will make a decision inline with their recommendation.
Wagle released the following statement following the board’s decision:“The legislature discovered $45 million in unauthorized spending over the past five years after auditing transportation, one small part of the education formula. We cannot ignore this misappropriation of millions in unapproved funds and that is why I will continue the call for an investigative audit of the entire Department of Education budget. It is an outrage that taxpayers have been taken advantage of for this long, with a potential misappropriation of $405 million over 30 plus years. This is not about a single staff member, but instead about ensuring that the rule of law is followed. If this was done by an employee of a private business they would have been placed on immediate administrative leave while a thorough investigation was conducted. You can stand with bureaucrats who’ve spent millions of unauthorized dollars or you can stand with the taxpayers. I will always stand with the Kansas taxpayers.”