Imagine having a school superintendent that improves ratings to become the top #4 of public school districts in the country; is beloved by the school board, parents, teachers and students, and projects an appearance of professionalism wherever he goes. Such was the case with Dr. Frank Tassone in Long Island – seen as a hero in the community – all while he simultaneously orchestrated the largest public school embezzlement in history.
The movie Bad Education tells the story of how things appeared wonderful on the surface, with both Tassone and his CFO Pam Gluckin being lauded for their performance and impact on rankings – while they and their families defrauded the Long Island district out of $11 million.
The School Board was blinded by their admiration for Tassone’s accomplishments. The auditor trusted the CFO after many years of dedicated work. Others only saw the impression Tassone and Gluckin worked hard to project, creating such an aura that gave them protection from questioning or doubt.
How were they discovered? By those who saw the facts instead of the false narrative: a hardware store salesman that became suspicious about a delivery address and an eager school newspaper reporter who uncovered discrepancies while researching an article!
Checks and balances are set up for a reason, and it’s best when they are put in place right from the start. Routinely review credit card statements and expense reports, not just when you think there is a problem. Require dual approvals or signatures for major expenses. Vary your auditor if not your whole auditing firm after a few years. Have an outside consultant conduct a program evaluation.
The vast majority of people are doing honest work. Good apples aren’t threatened by external reviews, rather they welcome them as a way to discover any bad apples in the bunch.