Buffalo School District fails to notice administrator's wrongdoing efficiently

Stealing from the poor and staying on the payroll


The Buffalo Public School District can’t seem to catch a break. Perhaps that’s because they keep hiring ineffective – and in this case corrupt – individuals to lead the district and manage its money.

Before Debbie Buckley’s firing seven months ago, the high-level administrator for the district was tasked with managing more than $100 million in federal grants the district received for its students living in poverty.

Buffalo’s public schools are filled with impoverished children. They all need – and deserve – assistance. Fortunately, those needs were recognized, and federal funds poured in to help.

Unfortunately, Buckley decided to help herself.

In March 2010, former superintendent James Williams (who was fired by the district in 2011 for unrelated reasons) promoted Buckley to assistant superintendent of state and federal programs, where she ran the grants department. On Friday, the FBI charged her with embezzlement.

Somehow, for more than a year, the school district failed to notice Buckley redirecting federal grant money to aid herself and those close to herself, rather than Buffalo’s needy children.

An investigation completed in April 2012 revealed Buckley had taken more than $330,000 from the grant money, giving it to her son, other family members and using it to fund a tutoring business she ran with her mother.

The report details Buckley’s rampant thievery, raising concern that the district allowed a single person to have complete and unsupervised control over vast sums of desperately needed funds.

Buckley was able to authorize funds to vendors before contracts were signed, pay for services the district didn’t receive and rent space for her tutoring company under the guise of district use.

Her behavior went unchecked, her spending unsupervised.

The district must develop a better system, or any system, to monitor the spending of district funds.

Buckley’s actions should have been impossible. Instead, they were easy.

When district employees are spending thousands of dollars in grant money, it’s a no-brainer that there should be some form of prior authorization.

The district must salvage what it can from this catastrophe, and improve its financial policies. A reputation for the mismanagement of grant money could be deeply damaging and prevent it from receiving money in the future.

And somehow, the district must improve its hiring record. From superintendents leaving their posts to Buckley’s criminal activity, the district is failing in its hiring practices.

This may be difficult for the district to accept. After all, despite hiring an investigator to examine Buckley’s spending in July 2011, it wasn’t until September that Buckley was removed from her post.

And even then, she remained on paid leave for seven months.

Apparently, the district just didn’t want to accept that they’d much such a grievous error.

They certainly didn’t want anyone else to know, as The Buffalo News had to file a lawsuit in the State Supreme Court just to obtain a copy of the investigator’s report on Buckley.

Now that it’s all in the open, it’s time for school district to accept its flaws, realize that everyone else is aware of them, too, and start figuring out how to do their jobs.

email: editorial@ubspectrum.com