By Robb Hays | WAFB | January 2, 2020
BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) – As of this week, the principal of LSU’s prestigious University Lab School has been on paid leave for one entire year and there is no indication that will change anytime soon.
Frank Rusciano, who makes $144,347 per year, was placed on leave on January 3, 2019, amid a state audit of the school that raised multiple questions.
Auditors said the actions by Rusciano and another principal at the school “appear to represent an attempt to circumvent University management’s disapproval and University policy.”
LSU said today it is still waiting on a review of the case by the Louisiana Board of Ethics before deciding Rusciano’s fate.
“This is an example of why people lose confidence in government,” Rafael Goyeneche of the New Orleans Metropolitan Crime Commission said Thursday.
Goyeneche, who is not part of the investigation, commented on the situation after WAFB asked him to review the details of the case. It is a case that has garnered the interest of many, including Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards.
Edwards contacted LSU’s top brass last year and asked that a “full and fair investigation” be done. A source says the governor made the request directly to then LSU President F. King Alexander.
An Edwards spokesperson, asked Thursday if the governor had any comment on Rusciano’s extended paid leave, offered few words. “As we’ve said before, the Governor simply requested that a full and fair investigation of the complaints be conducted,” Edwards spokesperson Christina Stephens said.
“If they’re paying him, I don’t see the logic of waiting this long and continuing to send him free money every month,” Goyeneche said. “Why not have him come into work and do something? This is an example of how government people in charge of this decision are afraid to make a decision. And, as a result, the school’s monies are being expended and there’s no work to justify it.”
LSU spokesman Ernie Ballard said last June that the university had “referred this matter to the Louisiana Board of Ethics for review and is awaiting a decision from them.”
Thursday, Ballard said LSU is still “awaiting a decision” from the Louisiana Board of Ethics.
Kathleen M. Allen of the Ethics Board said Thursday that the agency’s policy prohibits her from publicly releasing any details. “I cannot confirm or deny whether or not the Board conducted an investigation with respect the anyone, and accordingly if one has been closed or is being pursued,” Allen said.
“The ethics board doesn’t have the authority to fire anyone,” Goyeneche said. “They can just determine if what’s been sent to them is a violation of the state ethics code. Ethics violations are not criminal.”
Findings from the state audit of the LSU Lab School, on the edge of the LSU campus, were released in March.
Another University Lab School (ULS) principal, Myra Broussard, was moved to a different position because of the audit findings.
Auditors with the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s office said 63% 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 say the two school administrators, Rusciano and Broussard, established their own business, called Cub Care, so they could be compensated for aftercare programs at the schools for the 2017-18 school year. The amount the principals should be paid for after-school activities had been a matter of contention for several years, auditors say.
The actions by the 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 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 says.
Auditors also say 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 says ULS will no longer be allowed to use LHSCC in the future, but currently, enrolled students are being allowed to complete their coursework.
Auditors say both the free travel and the LHSCC issue “created the appearance of, if not an actual, conflict of interest.”