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Sep 8, 2010 9:51 PM by Alison Haynes

Pastorek to repay La. for car misuse

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Louisiana Superintendent of Education
Paul Pastorek said Wednesday he will personally repay the state for
the misuse of a state-owned vehicle by the head of the Recovery
School District.
The announcement comes a week after The Associated Press asked
about the status of a request made nine months ago by the state's
top education board on whether Paul Vallas should reimburse the
state for violating a ban on personal use of a state vehicle.
Pastorek said he asked the governor's budget office, the
Division of Administration, to determine the mileage costs of
visits that Vallas made in his state-owned Dodge Durango to see his
family in Chicago and other personal trips.
The repayment would cost Pastorek $4,185, based on a formula
devised by the Division of Administration.
Pastorek said the education department contacted the division
months ago about the matter and they'd worked since then to get
detailed trip information to determine their costs. He said he'll
propose to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education that he
repay the money.
"In an attempt to satisfy any questions or concerns around Paul
Vallas' personal use of the vehicle and to eliminate this
distraction from the important work we need to be focusing on as a
department and as a state, I determined that the right thing to do
here is to establish the costs to taxpayers for operating the
vehicle during these trips," Pastorek said in a statement.
The vehicle misuse was first raised in a November legislative
audit that said the personal trips violated state administrative
code.
Pastorek said he had been unaware of the legal prohibition and
had told Vallas he could use the sport utility vehicle for
nonbusiness travel.
"Since I authorized the use of the vehicle for personal trips,
I will then propose to BESE that I personally reimburse the state
for this total amount," Pastorek said.
In an interview Tuesday, Pastorek said he didn't believe
anything should have to be paid back "because I think we were
operating under an impression that it was OK, and I still believe
that." But his statement Wednesday reversed course, saying he
thought it was best to resolve the matter.
The issue could come up at BESE's meeting next week.
Pastorek is handling the situation differently than the request
made by BESE in January. At the time, the board voted 9-1 to
request the Division of Administration, which oversees state
vehicle purchases and policy, to decide whether Vallas owed the
state mileage payments for improperly using his SUV. Several BESE
members said Vallas should have to pay for those trips.
When asked why it took so long to wrap up a BESE request from
nine months ago, Pastorek said, "I don't know that it's as simple
as calculating mileage to and from a place." He said the education
department needed to comb through Vallas' records to determine
whether the audit included all the personal trips.
Vallas runs the Recovery School District, which operates many of
the low-performing schools taken over by the state, mostly in New
Orleans. He no longer uses the state-owned SUV. Instead, he
receives a $2,200 monthly car allowance.
The report from Legislative Auditor Steve Theriot's office said
Vallas - who doesn't fly - used the state-owned SUV for dozens of
visits to family in Illinois and along the Gulf Coast from his
hiring in July 2007 through April 2009. Thirty-one of 41 trips out
of Louisiana weren't work-related, Vallas told auditors.
The audit said Vallas used public funds for gasoline on personal
trips, and the state paid the insurance claim for an accident that
Vallas had while driving the SUV in Illinois.
According to Michael DiResto, spokesman for the Division of
Administration, out of 94,291 miles on the vehicle, the education
department said 39,740 of those miles - 42 percent - were for
Vallas' personal use. DiResto said the total operational costs of
the vehicle for fuel and maintenance were $9,964, so 42 percent of
that is $4,185.

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