Education

Former CMS Superintendent Heath Morrison’s travel and expense reports show few discrepancies

Heath Morrison said Wednesday that he kept proper records of his travel and expenses as superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, despite allegations to the contrary made by a former colleague.

The Observer reviewed hundreds of pages of documents outlining Morrison’s travel and expenses during his tenure as superintendent, covering tens of thousands of dollars, and found no clear discrepancies. The only charge that appears unconnected to CMS work is a $40 cab ride.

That expense was likely incurred while Morrison was out of town doing consulting work for the SUPES Academy, an organization that trains aspiring school leaders. Morrison said that if any expenses were found to be made in error, he would “absolutely” reimburse CMS if he had not done so already.

The travel and expense documents were provided to the Observer in response to a public records request the newspaper made in early November. Detailed expense descriptions and receipts were provided only for the past year. Morrison’s earlier travel was only presented by CMS as a summary sheet. That document does not indicate any expenses clearly unrelated to CMS work.

Morrison said Wednesday that he has been “meticulous” about his expense reports. He said any time a personal charge was made using his CMS credit card, he has immediately reimbursed the district.

“If there’s been a mistake, it is purely accidental,” he said.

Allegations about Morrison’s travel were presented to CMS general counsel George Battle III this fall as he investigated Morrison’s conduct. Battle later presented the school board with a report detailing claims that Morrison bullied staff members and misled the board about the costs of a project at UNC Charlotte.

The board accepted Morrison’s resignation Nov. 6.

Debi Baker, Morrison’s former assistant, provided the bulk of the anecdotes about Morrison’s behavior in Battle’s report. She said she was often reduced to tears at work.

She also told Battle that she believed Morrison used his CMS American Express card for expenses during personal travel. She also said Morrison’s payroll records did not reflect that he used leave time for consulting work. Baker was moved to a different position months before speaking with Battle.

The Observer has not reviewed Morrison’s time logs. Morrison said he has always used vacation time on days he is consulting.

Baker’s claims about the travel expenses did not make it into Battle’s report to the school board. Battle declined to comment Wednesday.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board chairwoman Mary McCray said Wednesday she has asked to review the travel and expense records, but had not yet seen them.

‘Limited’ work

Morrison’s contract with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools allowed him to pursue consulting work as long as any employment didn’t create a conflict of interest with the district. Any engagement was to be cleared by the board chair.

Morrison said Wednesday he wrote memos to the chair each July describing potential consulting work. He described that work as “limited.”

The Observer reviewed Morrison’s calendar from June 2 to the present, and it lists only four days spent on consulting work in two trips. Each spanned a Friday afternoon and Saturday. The Observer has requested Morrison’s calendar from the beginning of his tenure with CMS.

Morrison is a “master teacher” for the SUPES Academy, which trains aspiring school superintendents or other top leaders. While with CMS, he also did consulting for the Education Research and Development Institute (ERDI), which offers corporations access to leading educators as they develop products and services.

Morrison said Wednesday he was compensated for his work, but said he did not have the amounts readily available because he was traveling with his family.

He said he maintained a credit card used solely for his consulting work, and expenses for those trips would go on there.

Morrison said his assistant would frequently arrange the travel for consulting trips because they would often happen back-to-back with trips on CMS business. For example, an October trip for the SUPES Academy in Chicago came the day after he was in New York City for a meeting of a consortium of large school districts.

Morrison’s assistant did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

In his first year as superintendent, Morrison said there was occasionally confusion about expenses that should be billed to CMS and other professional trips he made. He traveled frequently during that time as national superintendent of the year.

Morrison said he fully reimbursed the district for those trips.

Morrison also said that district administrators recommended that CMS reimburse him for district expenses, like meals and parking, he put on his personal credit card. Morrison said he declined.

Baker said Wednesday that the concerns she raised to Battle dealt with Morrison’s first year as superintendent.

Cab rides

The cab ride that appears clearly unrelated to CMS work was on Oct. 11, when Morrison was in Chicago for a SUPES Academy event, according to his calendar. The $40.85 charge appears on his CMS American Express. Morrison said he recalls being on the phone handling district business as that ride finished, and may have handed the driver the wrong credit card.

“If I gave him the CMS card, that was a complete accident,” Morrison said.

The purposes of two other cab rides in the expense reports remain unexplained.

The first, dated Feb. 8, is a $17.25 fare in Chicago. No other expenses in the city are on the CMS card. Morrison said he could not immediately recall what the trip was for.

The Observer has not yet obtained Morrison’s calendar for that time period. The SUPES Academy meets in Chicago, but Morrison said he has also made recruiting trips to the city.

Later that month, Morrison was in Nashville on CMS business for a conference hosted by the American Association of School Administrators. But a $13 cab fare after the conference has the word “ERDI” written next to it on the credit card statement.

Morrison said he may have reimbursed CMS for those expenses. The Observer has requested a list of reimbursements made by Morrison to the district.

Morrison said he regularly goes over expense reports with his assistant. He would not have had the chance to do so in this case. The closing date in the pay period was Oct. 25, a Saturday.

By the end of the next week, he had offered his resignation.

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