Why school district manager is in hot water

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — School District Director of Physical Plant John Earman is in hot water for spending money that he had not been authorized to spend.

At a recent School Board meeting it was revealed that he exceeded his $50,000 purchasing authority and tried to cover the expenditure with a second purchase order. The district’s new procurement officer Jeff Carver refused to issue the rogue P.O., reporting the infraction to the board.

Chief Financial Officer Carter Morrison played down the mistake, saying it was a “rare instance when the rules were not followed.” He said district department heads and the vendors Earman hired both were responsible for making sure there was a purchase order with sufficient funds, and “we’ve put the vendors on notice.”

But school board members Shawn Frost and Charles Searcy said it’s not the vendors’ job to track how the school spends its money, “It’s their job to sell stuff,” Searcy said.

“It is unacceptable to have processes out of control,” Frost said. “There is no reason to punish business owners and their employees for work done.”

Frost asked Morrison to explain what checks and balances have been put in place to stop this from happening again. Morrison said “We will beef up internal procedures.”

Frost asked if Earman would be reprimanded and if termination was a possibility. Superintendent Mark Rendell said the incident would be reflected in the employee’s file.

Earman tried to get the unauthorized purchase order approved to pay for janitorial services. The district employs a staff of union janitors but Morrison said Earman hired an outside contractor to do “deep cleaning” at schools over the summer because staff janitors could not do the job.

However, records show the hiring of outside janitors from LF Staffing of Fort Pierce goes well beyond summer cleaning.

The company submitted time cards for about $8,000 for the summer cleaning work, which was not for deep cleaning, but for “fast clean” work. They also submitted a summary of charges from February to July, showing hundreds of entries, demonstrating the company is used consistently and not on a substitute basis. The bill claims about $73,000 in cleaning services were delivered, of which $27,000 was paid and $55,000 is owed.

Earman took out a “blanket” purchase order for “sub-custodial” for $35,000 in February and then a $45,000 purchase order in July. Carver rejected the second purchase order because it came after, not before, the services were purchased. Purchase orders are intended to ensure second-party oversight of expenditures, preventing one person from having too much purse-power.

The school board recently discussed privatizing all janitorial services to reduce costs but decided against going that route.

Communications Workers of America union president Mike Murray and janitors’ representative Maureen Weisberg say Earman is trying to do an end run around the board, privatizing services piecemeal.

Budget documents show “custodial substitutes” cost about $340,000 during the past two years with $155,000 budgeted this year. Another $360,000 is budgeted for cleaning teams, turf management, grounds maintenance and “supplement to sites.”

These figures seem to show there has already been a systemic privatization of janitorial services, despite the board’s consideration and rejection of privatizing those services.

If this is the case, Earman, possibly with Morrison’s and Fritz’s support, is not just exceeding his purchasing authority; he’s usurping the board’s right to make that policy decision.

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