Beverly Hills school board members hired Supt. Robert Pellicone and gave him a district credit card after being informed that personal financial difficulties forced him to file for bankruptcy eight years ago, a top school official acknowledged Friday.
Board President Barry Brucker said Pellicone volunteered the information during a job interview before the board hired him last October. Board members decided to overlook Pellicone's financial problems because he had successfully run two other school systems and was considered an "educational visionary," Brucker said.
But on Monday, the board voted to put Pellicone on administrative leave with pay because he racked up more than $6,000 of questionable charges on the card. The amount includes more than $5,000 in bills from restaurants and hotels in San Francisco and Beverly Hills, as well as $250 in bar tabs, according to records released Friday. There were also charges for airport limousine service.
The district's lawyer and officials at the Los Angeles County Office of Education are reviewing the bills and will recommend action at a July 28 meeting. Options include returning Pellicone to work, firing him or choosing some other form of discipline.
Pellicone could not be reached for comment Friday. His lawyer did not return phone calls.
School board members are prohibited from asking job candidates about their personal finances, Brucker said, but Pellicone himself disclosed he had declared bankruptcy in 1991, days after he was hired as superintendent of the Eastchester, N.Y., school district.
Brucker said Pellicone blamed the bankruptcy on the fact he co-signed a loan for a relative and was targeted by creditors after the money was lost on an investment.
"A lot of people have glitches in their personal lives, and it was a long time ago," Brucker said. "The superintendent is, in my opinion, an education visionary and I was very much enamored by that.
"He was the superintendent of two different school districts--one was a $40-million school district, the other one was a $20-million district--and they were as healthy as can be," he said.
Pellicone was hired in October at an annual salary of $143,000. Weeks later, he requested a district credit card.
Although the district had never issued such a card, board members went along with the request, reasoning that it would allow Pellicone to expedite the purchase of critical equipment and pay for services rendered at large gatherings, like conferences.
Although Brucker said he thought it was a good idea at the time, he has changed his mind with the latest turn of events.
"Never again--I'm not going to issue another credit card while I'm serving on this board," he said.