Tuesday, January 01, 2013

More on Dennis Leone.......

November 2005
STRS exposé earns Ethics in Government Award
Dr. Dennis Leone receives the Ethics in Government Award from Joy Paolo, Paolo Consulting LLC, sponsor of the award, and John Wahle, Ohio GFOA president.
For “exposing a terrible and arrogant entitlement culture” at the State Teachers Retirement System beginning in 1995, the Government Finance Officers Association presented its 2005 Ethics in Government Award to Dr. Dennis Leone in Cleveland Sept. 14.
In nominating Dr. Leone for the award, members of the association noted that he “acquired proof that the STRS Board and the STRS staff had been spending pension money and taxpayer money on things like booze, parties, concert tickets, Kings Island, baseball games, gifts, paid airfare and paid lodging for STRS visitors, multiple lavish trips to places like Honolulu and Palm Springs (spending $540,000 between 2000, 2001 and 2002), a new office complex that would make Saddam Hussein blush (spending $94.1 million), sculptures and artwork for the new STRS headquarters (spending $869,000), a special child care services center for employees of STRS (spending $818,000 to build and $500,000 on an annual basis to operate), and giant bonus checks for 435 STRS employees (totaling $24.4 million between 1998 and 2003) at a time when total stock market assets at STRS dropped a staggering $12.3 billion.”
STRS, Dr. Leone told the Board, should not stand for “Sculptures, Travel, Retreats and Spending.”
Dr. Leone also found that the staff increased from 414 to 735 and administrative expenses increased 17.4 percent from 2000 to 2002. Continuing research by Dr. Paul E. Kostyu, Columbus bureau chief for Copley Newspapers, disclosed that STRS employees who adopted a child received a $5000 gift from pension money. In another STRS policy reported by Dr. Kostyu, the executive director received a percentage of every staff bonus check he gave.
On June 16, 2004, when Gov. Robert Taft signed into law the pension reform bill with the sweeping changes pushed for by Dr. Leone, the governor presented Dr. Leone with one of the pens he used to sign the bill.

In addition to the Ethics in Government Award, in 2004 Dr. Leone earned the coveted First Amendment Award by the Society of Professional Journalists for his STRS investigation and the related “house cleaning” that followed. In this list of previous winners you will find Dr. Leone along with some other individuals/organizations who have won that award:

First Amendment Award
This award recognizes significant contributions to the First Amendment rights of freedom of expression. Individuals and organizations both inside and outside of journalism are eligible.
2012 – Dan Gearino, Columbus Dispatch
2011 – Evan Millward, Ohio University
2010 – Randy Ludlow, Columbus Dispatch
2009 – Geoff Dutton and Mike Wagner, Columbus Dispatch
2008 – Jill Riepenhoff and Jennifer Smith Richards, Columbus Dispatch
2007 – Marc Dann, Ohio attorney general
2006 – Fred Gittes, Gittes & Schulte
2005 – State Rep. W. Scott Oelslager, R, Canton
2004 – Dennis Leone, former superintendent of Chillicothe Schools
2003 – Martin Rozenman, Suburban News Publications
2002 – Catherine Candisky and Darrel Rowland, The Columbus Dispatch
2001 – Staff of the Ohio State University Lantern
2000 – Thomas A. Schwartz, OSU journalism professor
1999 – Cliff Wiltshire, Suburban News Publications
1998 – Verne Edwards, Delaware Gazette
1997 – Frank Deaner, Ohio Newspaper Association
1996 – Martin Yant, Ohio Observer magazine
1995 – Staff of the Ohio University Post
1994 – The Columbus Dispatch and Editor Bob Smith
1993 – not presented
1992 – Alan D. Miller, The Columbus Dispatch
1991 – The Fairfield County Leader
1990 – Luke Feck, former Dispatch editor
1989 – Andrew Douglas, Ohio Supreme Court Justice
1986 – Sam Perdue, Columbus Citizen-Journal city editor and columnist
1983 – Judge John W. McCormac of the Franklin County Court of Appeals

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Catcher of Thieves
Dennis Leone, Chillicothe (Ohio) School District
By Steven Scarpa
January 2004
Dennis Leone didn't initially intend to play Robin Hood when he heard rumors of excessive spending at the State Teachers Retirement System office in early 2003. But once this Ohio superintendent realized the extent of the pension board's decadence on the backs of retirees, he gladly accepted the role.
Expensive business trips, parties and large bonuses were all paid for using the ever-diminishing assets earmarked for teacher retirement. At the same time in his district of Chillicothe, Leone was forced to slash $1.7 million from the 2003 budget. Gut-wrenching decisions resulted in the closure of three schools and the layoff of 45 staff members.
Meanwhile, whispers about the retirement system continued. While health-care costs skyrocketed and pension assets took a plunge, the system's leaders were still treating themselves like royalty. "Frankly, I didn't believe it," says Leone, who has been a superintendent for more than 20 years.
He wrote a letter in February 2003 asking questions about the spending practices. "In my school district, when we have declining assets, we take steps to cut costs," Leone told the pension board. He got no answer.
Dennis Leone Superintendent, Chillicothe (Ohio) School District Age: 53 Tenure in district: 7 years Educational inspiration: His father's work as a professor and administrator at the University of Kansas Favorite pastimes: Fishing, reading Current reading focus: World War II history (his father landed in Normandy on D-Day). Right now, Leone is reading Tom Brokaw's The Greatest Generation (Random House, 1998). Magazine he's hooked on: National Geographic After 10 weeks of research, Leone confronted the STRS and demanded answers. "I felt like they were trying to get rid of me," he says.
According to information gathered by Leone and released to the Ohio press, administrative costs at the STRS increased 17 percent during a six-year period. Thirty-four employees received bonuses of more than $40,000 in 2002. More than $480,000 a year was going toward child care for STRS employees. Leone's advocacy made him something of a celebrity among teachers in Ohio, where he has spent his entire educational career. The state-level work was a far cry from the personal interactions he was used to having in his own district, where he makes a point to work closely with both teachers and students.
By his own count, he received 400-plus letters and e-mails from throughout the state about his efforts to uncover the truth. After devoting their lives to the children of Ohio, teachers were being betrayed. "Everyone was outraged. We had all been naïve. We had been too trusting, sleepy and ignorant. We thought we were sending our pensions to a bank in Switzerland," Leone says.
The superintendent has pushed the Ohio legislature to put in extra safeguards to prevent his level of malfeasance from happening again. "Dennis has been very outspoken in his frustration," says state Sen. Kirk Schuring. "He has been a tenacious crusader." Schuring has helped devise legislation to provide internal auditing of the pension fund's spending practice. "I think the legislature will respond in a positive way to the measure," he notes.
Moral of the story
Chillicothe's Joyce Atwood, an assistant superintendent, says that the moral stand Leone took in this situation is emblematic of his management style.Devoted to children and his district, he would never take a step to compromise them, she says. For instance, he makes
a point to be at all of the schools' important events and to be a constant presence in students' lives.
It might make for 80-hour work weeks, but it does have its rewards. Last year's high school graduating class dedicated their yearbook to him, an honor he points to with pride.
Atwood says her boss "has a sense of what is right. He feels he has an obligation to help individuals. Projects and issues are handled with justice."
When the day is done, Leone wishes he never had to be in a position to take on the pension board. Although not a naysayer by nature, he says he finds himself being more skeptical, especially about what goes on at the state level. Perhaps he should keep that Robin Hood hat on hand, just in case.
Steven Scarpa is a reporter and freelance writer based in Shelton, Conn.
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