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KCPS superintendent defends lavish high-end dining

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KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -

Every month, the Kansas City School Board pays the bill for Superintendent Stephen Green's district credit card.

Through a public records request, KCTV5 News dug through the transactions to find the card swiped at high-end restaurants for meals with administrators, school board members, consultants and community leaders, along with other questionable transactions.

In just three meals at the Bristol restaurant in the Power and Light District, Green's card was used to pay the tab for himself and his cabinet staff to dine on lobster, swordfish and filet mignon. The bills totaled $624.65.

Green defends the transactions.

KCTV5 reviewed receipts for nearly two years of transactions to see the district card used at high-end restaurants in Kansas City including Brio, Classic Cup, Capital Grill and Houston's. But hands down the most meals paid for with taxpayer dollars were spent at Bristol, which is a short walk from the district's downtown headquarters.

"The crazy thing to me is you have 23 visits to Bristol, with over $2,000 in charges," said James V. Shuls, director of education policy at the Show-Me Institute in St. Louis. "A ton of other restaurants people are going to and it seems like nobody is really checking these things."

The institute focuses on education issues in Missouri.

Shuls reviewed the transactions provided to him from KCTV5's Missouri Sunshine Law request and questioned the use of tax dollars being used for high-end dining.

He felt it was a wake-up call for parents to get more involved in how schools use their tax dollars.

"It's really interesting to see where the money is going," Shuls said. "All we hear from our school districts are we need more money, when we see where the money is actually going, we realize there is a lot of waste in public schools."

On top of Green's $250,000 annual salary, there is an expense account for what are called in his contract "reasonable expenses that support business, goals and objectives of the district."

Several other districts in the area also give their top administrator an expense account.

KCTV5 investigative reporter Eric Chaloux asked Green if it was a reasonable expense to eat at expensive, fancy restaurants with staff, school board and consultants.

"Absolutely," Green said. "I don't think ... I don't use the term fancy. Bristol, Classic Cup, First Watch, Brio are restaurants that are viable here in this community. We are actually helping those businesses stay viable, so it's actually recycling taxpayer dollars."

Green said he is within the limits set by the district when it comes to his spending when trying to re-build relationships in the community to help the district get back on track.

Some of the meals Green says that were found on the credit card were for administrators leaving the district.

"I have not broken the law. I have not broken any policy, violated any administrative policies, consistent with the spending in the past. So it is not wildly out-of-range for that," Green said.

KCTV5 found a charge for a $100 gift certificate to a Country Club Plaza restaurant that was paid for with taxpayer dollars. The gift certificate was given to the former superintendent of the Hickman Mills School District as a retirement gift.

"For the kind of advice that she has given me over the years we have known each other, and even as I am in this role now, and the role she is in, I think that's worth it," Green said.

"Just because you have the money, does that mean you have to spend it," questioned Chaloux.

"We always check for reasonability, how reasonable are the expenses, I think I'm within the reason," Green said.

But others don't think the meals are reasonable during tough financial times.

"It sends a really bad message, there have been cutback at the school level, cuts at the site level, but you have a superintendent dining at five-star restaurants... that's just wrong," said Andrea Flinders, president of the Kansas City Federation of Teachers and School-Related Personnel Local 691.

Flinders said the district should always watch to make sure resources are being used to help the students it serves.

"It's all those little things, your $11 here or $600 there or $400 here. It all starts to add up. It is all money that could be put into the classroom. That is where it needs to be," Flinders said. "Every free nickel needs to go to these kids in these classrooms."

The Kansas City School Board approves the payment of the district's credit cards every single month at its meetings.

KCTV5 has learned from a district official that the full board does not see the actual receipts from each transaction, just a print-out of the statement that shows amounts, locations and dates of purchases.

The board president is the only person, according to that official, that sees actual receipts.

At first, KCPS Board President Jon Hile agreed to speak with KCTV5 News over the phone about this story. He later told Chaloux that he would only answer questions by email.

When asked about the high-dollar dining at fancy restaurants and purchases made on the superintendent's credit card, Hile issued the following statement:

"Kansas City Public Schools utilizes a clear system to monitor and control expenses made through KCPS-issued credit cards. These processes are in line with best practices as recommended by KCPS's auditor and the industry. The expenses you referenced went through this system of controls. Over the past two years, KCPS has received an unqualified 'clean' audit and, as a board, we will continue to ensure that policies and procedures are in place to protect KCPS's financial health."

If you'd like to see how the KCPS School Board spends tax payer dollars every single month, click here.

KCTV5's DeAnn Smith contributed to this report.

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