(WXYZ) - A local school leader spent hundreds of thousands of tax payer dollars on Godiva Chocolate, Honey Baked Hams and lots more. So what does any of it have to do with educating kids in a district already millions in debt?
Her name is Mischa Bashir and she used to help run Pontiac schools, where dozens of teachers were just laid off.
She left there under a cloud only to pop up at another struggling school system where she makes more money. And get this - she created a new job for one of her Pontiac pals, who has since resigned after being indicted.
Bashir has made a very good living working for local school districts. As a deputy superintendent for Pontiac schools, she made $142,000 a year, and got a $535 a month car allowance. On top of that the district gave Bashir her own card credit–and she used it.
More than $13,000 on Honey Baked Ham-- was it pork barrel spending?
Then there’s almost $15,000 at Panera Bread. Talk about a lot of dough.
“That’s insane,” says Pontiac parent Angie Jones.
$1700 for Godiva Chocolates was also purchased with the credit card.
“That’s completely outrageous,” says Pontiac parent Angie Jones.
$3,000 was spent on Edible Arrangements.
“That’s a lot of money for nothing concerning the school,” says Sondria Rodgers, who is also a Pontiac parent.
Then there is another $3,000 spent on Happy’s Pizza.
Pontiac parent Reshaunnia Fair says her son doesn’t even have school books from the district.
“No, the kids don’t get books,” says Fair. “He don’t have a book.”
In just two years, from 2009 to 2011, Bashir’s Pontiac school-issued credit card records show nearly $293,363.42 in charges — all while the district was supposed to be working under a state-approved plan to eliminate their deficit.
So how much of it was for school-related business?
We caught up with Bashir at a local school board meeting but she wouldn’t answer our questions.
In an email Bashir told us to talk to the Pontiac officials, but they won’t talk either.
What we do know is that $52,829 of the $300,000 was for charges at the Pontiac-Detroit Marriott. For a hotel just down the road from Pontiac schools? Sources tell us they had meetings there. And just days before Christmas, they ran up a $12,340 bill at the Marriott.
“That was appalling and amazing to me,” says Jonathon Brown, former Pontiac Interim Superintendent.
Brown is suing the district as a whistleblower. He accuses the district and board members of firing him because he was looking into Bashir’s spending habits and other possible financial wrongdoing.
“I've been an educator for nearly 40 years, at the middle school, high school, and at the board level, and I've never seen the kind of spending that I'm witnessing here,” says Brown.
It was Brown who was found the internal documents that raise other questions about Bashir.
On top of her salary – and lavish credit card spending – Brown says Bashir collected $41,000 from Pontiac schools for vague reasons not spelled out in her contract. Bashir’s pay stubs show she got $14,200 in July 2010 for “administrator additional duties.” A month later, just under $9,000 for “extra hours” she said she worked. A month after that, nearly $18,000 for “additional duties.”
What duties? They won’t say.
Again, Pontiac is a school district that told the state it would get its finances on track. But that didn’t happen and just this month the district laid off about 40 teachers.
7 Action News was there the day the teachers, parents and kids got the bad news.
“They say it is about the kids. How can that be about the kids?” says Pontiac school teacher Eleanor Hawkins, who says class sizes are going way up after the layoffs.
“I’m now laid off and they are getting a new teacher and my class is being split up between other classes,” says special education teacher Melissa Van Fleet. “So, any of the students I’ve worked with this year, whatever progress we made be it academic or social is just going down the drain.”
“These past superintendents have either stolen from the district, mismanaged the funds, overpaid people, paid them twice and it’s going to come on the backs of the teachers, the students, the parents,” says Aimee McKeever, Pontiac Education Association President.
But Bashir sure landed on her feet. She jumped ship from Pontiac schools last August. And now heads another struggling district that’s $10 million in the red: Inkster Public Schools. There she makes even more money: $150,000 a year and gets another hefty car allowance: $435 a month.
One of her first moves was to bring in her friend Jumanne Sledge -- another former assistant superintendent from Pontiac as her right hand man. She created the position, paying him $135 grand a year—and yes, he got a car allowance too: $435 a month.
But Sledge didn’t last long. He resigned in March after the feds charged Sledge with stealing $236,000 from the Pontiac School district.
Does the Inkster School board have any regrets hiring Bashir? They won’t say. One school board member Ruth Williams