BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - In an unusual move, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards has stepped into the controversy surrounding one of the state’s most elite K-12 schools. Some of the area’s most influential people send their children to LSU’s University Laboratory School (ULS), located on the edge of campus.
However, the school has been in turmoil since the release of an audit by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor that uncovered multiple incidents of alleged wrongdoing there.
The governor has asked that a “full and fair” investigation be conducted into two of the school’s principals whom the audit raised questions about, WAFB has confirmed.
A source familiar with the matter told WAFB the Governor made that request directly to LSU President F. King Alexander. It is not clear when the request was made.
Frank Rusciano, the secondary principal at LSU’s University Laboratory School (ULS), was suspended with pay on January 3 as the results of the troublesome state audit were being compiled. Nearly six months later, Rusciano remains on what is essentially a fully-paid vacation.
The school’s elementary principal, Myra Broussard, was moved to another position as a result of the audit. She is now Special Assistant to the Interim Superintendent. The Louisiana Voice online publication first reported on June 8, quoting a source, that the governor allegedly contacted LSU and asked that the two principals not be fired.
WAFB contacted the governor’s office to see if, in fact, Edwards had intervened in the matter. Eight days after our initial inquiry, the governor’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications provided a response.
“The Governor did not direct that any action be taken with any personnel at University (Lab),” said Christina Stephens. “Instead, he only requested that a full and fair investigation of the complaints be conducted. The Governor is confident that is being done.”
Findings from the state audit were made public in March. Auditors said 63 percent of ULS purchases they randomly reviewed were for items or services “that would not typically be allowed by University policy such as employee gifts including Apple watches and gift cards, Director’s Award scholarships and non-employee/spouse travel.”
Auditors also said two school administrators, Rusciano and Broussard, established their own business called Cub Care, so that they could be compensated for aftercare programs at the schools for the 2017-2018 school year. The amount the principals should be paid for after-school activities had been a matter of contention for several years, auditors said.
The actions by Rusciano and Broussard “appear to represent an attempt to circumvent University management’s disapproval and University policy,” auditors said.
The two principals set up a system so that parents could have their credit cards drafted for the after-school program and then did not deposit those funds into a University account to “ensure that they (the principals) would get paid,” auditors claim.
Auditors also found that Rusciano received complimentary travel and accommodations at an all-inclusive resort for himself and one guest on five different occasions in exchange for him using a particular travel agency. That travel agency was used by ULS for booking groups of more than 75 people for the school’s annual trip to Washington, D.C., the audit reported.
Auditors also said Rusciano allowed school resources including staff, computers, facilities and supplies to be used by his wife’s company, Louisiana High School Correspondence Course (LHSCC). LSU said ULS will no longer be allowed to use LHSCC in the future, but currently enrolled students are being allowed to complete their coursework.
Auditors said both the free travel and the LHSCC issue “created the appearance of, if not an actual, conflict of interest.”
Interim Dean Dr. Roland Mitchell provided LSU’s management response to the audit findings.
Mitchell said ULS has taken “personnel actions” with respect to the two principals. “These outcomes are in process and will be completed no later than June 30, 2019,” Mitchell wrote in his response.
While Broussard has been demoted to another position within the school, no decision has been made public about Rusciano. LSU said last week that Mitchell still plans to make his decision about Rusciano by June 30, as promised in the audit.
Mitchell said the school’s aftercare program is also being reviewed to “ensure accurate administration and financial reporting” going forward. And, Mitchell said, the LSU Office of Accounting is working with ULS to make sure all future money generated by ULS is deposited into the proper university accounts.