Hotels, flights top credit card costs for Champaign Unit 4 School District; Over $850,000 spent on Amazon in past school year

You are currently viewing Hotels, flights top credit card costs for Champaign Unit 4 School District; Over $850,000 spent on Amazon in past school yearDarrell Hoemann
Kenwood School on Sunday, December 19, 2021. photo by Darrell Hoemann/C-U Citizen Access

In the past fiscal year, Champaign Unit 4 School District spent over $321,000 on expenses charged to American Express credit cards according to its check register archive, a public report on expenditures accessible on its website.

A CU-CitizenAccess review found the top five purchases include tickets for flights with American, Delta and Southwest Airlines, rooms at Hilton hotels and purchases from power tool retailer CPO Commerce — each of which totaled over $20,000. For example, the district spent just under $30,500 on American Airlines tickets.

Purchase data was combined into vendors based on the American Express purchase descriptions listed on the check register.

The monthly reports include expenditure information like the vendor, amount, date and more, but not in a spreadsheet-compatible format, which would allow an individual to easily filter, sort and summarize the expenses. CU-CitizenAccess transposed the data, and the numbers reported are estimates for analysis purposes due to misspellings, inconsistencies and data entry errors present on the check register reports.

In response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the data used to produce the reports, Unit 4 refused to provide the information. Unit 4’s FOIA Officer Garret Hill said the information is “publicly available” but referred to the check register reports, not raw data entered into the district’s electronic finance system that would provide full details of the expenses. 

The meaning of some purchase descriptions and vendors listed are vague because they are shortened or cut off in the reports. For example, one might assume Enterprise is the rental car company, but other entries like “travel agency fees” lack details that are captured by the district’s electronic finance system.

Stacey Moore, chief communications officer for the district, declined multiple requests to comment about its expenditures. But in a phone call, she confirmed the check register reports are produced by the electronic finance system’s data. She said there can be a physical record of expenditures before being entered into the system, but not always.

Moore did share the Illinois State Board of Education accounting manual, which outlines various record-keeping requirements for school districts in the state.

In 2019, the News-Gazette published a story on questionable credit card expenditures at Unit 4. The district did not respond to questions on whether or how procedures have changed since then.

Other top costs for the district include hotels, including various locations at Hotel Spero, Holiday Inn and Omni Hotels. The three total more than $22,000. Enterprise purchases totaled about $19,700 and Best Buy purchases totaled about $18,500. 

Restaurant bills made up at least 6% of the district’s credit card purchases, about $20,000. There were at least 11 restaurants in the data, including Neil Street Blues, Einstein Brothers Bagels, Jupiter’s at the Crossing, Jimmy Johns and Moe’s Southwest Grill. There were 28 purchases from restaurants as high as $2,695 and low as $30. 

Other restaurants listed include Pekara Bakery, Panera Bread, Nothing Bundt Cake, Black Dog Smoke & Ale, Jet’s Pizza and Industrial Donut.

Café Britt, a Costa Rican gourmet coffee company, was the vendor for one expenditure listed for $4,830. No specific information was available. A single 12-ounce bag of coffee costs about $15 on its website and it mentions subscription-based services are available.

Other top credit card costs include the online learning service Coursera and Tomedes, a language translation service.

Unit 4 spends regularly on Amazon, but many purchases are unspecific

Only $1,000 has been spent on Amazon using American Express credit cards, but that’s just a fraction of the district’s overall Amazon expenses of $850,721 in the past school year. 

The top cost — totaling just over $40,000 — is obscured, simply titled “Please See Attached.” That label is used in the description for 278 different purchases as high as $2,376 and as low as $4.99. There was over $2,200 for the label “See Attached” with no other details. 

Top purchases from are organized by the purchase descriptions as listed on the check register.

Various other entries refer to Amazon and an attachment, but lack details on the items purchased. These attachments are not available in the reports or on the district’s website, so it is uncertain what specifically was purchased under this label. 

Besides that, a spot check of the purchase descriptions found many Amazon costs are for office and classroom supplies. Some notable purchases include various recess equipment for just under $8,000, nearly $10,000 on an HP Laserjet printers and $16,650 for unknown items labeled under a purchase order number.

Over $22 million spent on construction companies in the past school year

Overall, the district spent just over $119 million in the last complete school year with 19 separate costs amounting over $1 million. This number is the total across all check register reports during the last fiscal year.

Total expenditures greater than $1 million are organized by the vendor name.

Operational costs top its highest expenditure categories. The top expenditure is labeled “Federal Tax Deposit” for about $15.6 million. The second-highest expenditure, Health Alliance insurance, is about $13.89 million.

O’Shea Builders was the greatest construction-related cost at just over $12.6 million. Grunloh Construction and Broeren Russo Builders are other top vendors for construction. These three combined add up to about $21.7 million, overshadowing the other top expenditures.

Entries referring to retirement add up to about $6.6 million, and adding municipal retirement costs brings the total to almost $10 million. 

Other costs over $1 million include Amplify, an education technology company with numerous curriculum options, and Graybar, an electrical, communications and data networking distribution business.

Over $2.3 million was spent on Gordon Food Service, which handles the district’s school lunch programs.

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