Embattled BESE member submits more expenses

Walter Lee, a member of Louisiana’s top school board under investigation for double billing, has submitted another $3,600 of travel expenses, according to state documents.

The last request, $394.48 to travel to Baton Rouge, covered a trip that took place two days after Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera accused Lee of improperly collecting $13,073 from the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education for expenses he did not personally pay.

DeSoto Parish District Attorney Richard Johnson has said he plans to seek charges of felony theft and malfeasance in office against Lee amid allegations in Purpera’s report.

A grand jury was originally set to hear the case Monday.

Johnson said Monday that the grand jury gathering was rescheduled for Friday.

Lee, the longest-serving member of BESE and former superintendent for the DeSoto Parish school system, did not attend BESE’s committee meetings Tuesday.

Neither he nor his attorney has returned telephone calls.

Lee’s request for reimbursement for $3,649.99 in travel expenses between Sept. 18 and Dec. 13 were part of a batch of routine requests from BESE members submitted to the panel’s Administration and Finance Committee.

The panel received the list but did not act on them.

BESE President Chas Roemer told colleagues, as he has said before, that Lee, who lives in Shreveport, will not be getting any reimbursements until the controversy is resolved.

Roemer, who lives in Baton Rouge, said earlier that officials told Lee the same thing in a letter shortly after the audit appeared.

Roemer also said that, in an earlier telephone conversation with Lee, the embattled BESE member “indicated he was going to do what needed to be done.”

Exactly what that means is unclear.

Purpera said in his report that, while Lee collected the roughly $13,000 from BESE, he paid for his travel with a credit card from the DeSoto Parish school system, where he was superintendent from 1999-2012, but did not forward his reimbursement from BESE to the school district.

Purpera said that could be a violation of state law.

The auditor said BESE officials should try to recover the money.

No refund had been received by the board as of Tuesday, according to a spokesman for BESE.

The reimbursements cited by Purpera covered expenses between 2009 and 2012.

Those listed in documents submitted to the committee on Tuesday range from $110.16 for a tour of schools in Vernon Parish to $528.50 to attend BESE committees and the full board on Dec. 2-4.

Other expenses sought include travel for meetings of a task force that studied changes in how public schools are funded, a superintendents’ advisory panel gathering and BESE committee and full board meetings on Oct. 14-16.

Purpera’s report also said Lee improperly terminated his school system vehicle lease contract 14 months early, which cost the district $10,653, and then bought the vehicle himself at a price well below market value.

The auditor said that could be a violation of state law and the state constitution.