Don’t Skip Skip’s Class

Educators have a special role. Every one of us recollects a special teacher somewhere along the way who educated us, motivated us, and taught us about doing the right thing. So it’s remarkable (and disappointing) when we find a career educator who appears to be doing things that don’t reflect the caring and giving behavior we have come to know in educators, but instead seem to teach something far less.

Les “Skip” Carnine is a career educator. He grew up in Iowa, taught and was a principal in Missouri, and later taught at the collegiate level. At one point, he was a Little Rock school superintendent.

Now Skip is in his second term representing District 94 from Benton County in the Arkansas House of Representatives. And he is teaching again. But probably not what he thinks.

Here is a look at Skip’s lesson plan for the course he may not even know he is teaching: “Being a State Representative, 101.”

Lesson 1: Representing the People? Or not so much…

People are generally put in office by voters. Someone usually wins by having more votes than other candidates. But beneath that is that “life blood of politics”: Money. It pays for print ads, flyers, broadcast ads, push cards, events, and all that. So one interesting way of learning who really put someone in office is to look at who donated to that person’s campaign. So let’s look at where Skip’s political money is coming from. And there is no better place to look than a website devoted to following money in state politics, www.followthemoney.org.

Here is Skip’s page.

Class, scroll down to near the bottom and look at “Contributions by Contributor Type,” Figure C. As you can see, only one person gave to Skip during the period shown. But lots of “institutions” did. And who were those “institutions”? Well, scroll up to Table 1 and read who his top contributors were. Among those listed: Wal-Mart, Stephens Group, Arkansas Health Care Association, Entergy, Kraft Foods, Hewlett Packard, Arkansas State Farm Insurance, Arkansas Realtors Association, American Electric Power, Action Committee for Rural Electrification, Manufactured Housing Council, Medco Health Solutions, Southwestern Energy Company, AT&T, and Cox Communications.

So we see, class, one person donated to Skip during this period. But a ton of companies did, and they gave nearly fifty times as much. So who is Skip going to listen to on major issues? You can expect that question on our next exam.

Lesson 2: “Organizing for $UCCE$$”

On November 4, 2008, Skip was elected to the Arkansas House of Representatives for the first time. He came well prepared because, you see, just two weeks prior he formed Les Carnine LLC. He identified the following company officers: Les Carnine, Incorporator/Organizer; Linda Carnine, Managing Member; and Les Carnine, Managing Member.

And what does Les Carnine LLC do exactly? As best we can tell, exactly nothing. Except one thing.

Each month Les Carnine LLC sends the State of Arkansas an invoice for $1,500 for providing “legislative support services” to Les Carnine, the legislator. Skip Carnine has filed the invoices twelve months a year, month in and month out, even though the legislature is in session only an average of six weeks a year. Skip never “skips” a month! We, the taxpayers, it seems, are paying $18,000 a year for Skip to provide support to Skip in office. And, of course, this is in addition to Skip’s legislative salary.

Skip’s invoices are available for your review here.

Lesson 3: “Abbreviated Bookkeeping for Legislators”

Amendment 70 to the Arkansas State Constitution and Arkansas Statute 10-2-212 apply to expense reimbursements for our legislators (including Skip). 10-2-212 requires that expenses be in compliance with IRS limitations.

Now we can’t say if Skip—while a career educator, or while sitting on the Board at NWACC—ever needed to file an expense report. We suspect he did. And we can’t help but think that when he did, he needed to file those pesky little things called receipts. Take a look at the “abbreviated bookkeeping” in Skip’s invoices to himself.

Quiz time, class! Question: Class, do those invoices look like something your employer would accept? And do they look like something the IRS would accept? No? Very good, class, you got that right!

And let’s think about this. Skip is billing the exact, same amount for expenses month in and month out. Every month. Including all those ten and a half months the legislature is not even in session. But this expense money is to reimburse exact out-of pocket expenses. How can that be, class?

Statistics quiz time, class! Question: What is the probability that Skip Carnine is incurring the EXACT amount month in and month out for expenses? “Zero” you say? Right again!

Lesson 4: “Following Local Laws for Legislators…Well, maybe not”

As we learned in Lesson 2, Les Carnine LLC is a business registered with the State of Arkansas, even if its sole purpose appears to be billing the state for expense money.

The corporate registration for Les Carnine LLC is available at the Secretary of State’s website here.

As you can see, it lists a corporate address of 2718 WEST GREEN ACRES ROAD ROGERS, 72758.

That address is in Rogers City limits, so Les Carnine LLC is doing business in city limits. Per Rogers City ordinance, “Business licenses are required for all businesses within the City of Rogers.”

We called the Rogers City Clerk to inquire as to whether a Les Carnine LLC was licensed to do business in city limits. After a brief check the nice person said no, there is no business license for Les Carnine LLC in Rogers.

Quiz time! Question: Is Skip Carnine breaking the Rogers ordinance requiring a license for businesses in Rogers? Grade your own answer on that one, dear class.

Lesson 5: “Living Well”

Not so remarkably, Skip’s home has the exact same address as Les Carnine LLC: 2718 West Green Acres Road, Rogers.

You will be pleased to know that Skip is not living in poverty. In fact, a quick look at the housing site zillow.com shows the retired educator is doing quite well.

Zillow suggests his house is worth about a third of a million dollars, and estimates a mortgage payment of about $1,210 a month.

Quiz time! If Skip is filing for $1,500 in expenses every month, and if his mortgage payment is $1,210 a month, is the expense money he is receiving enough, or not enough, to pay his entire mortgage on his $325,000 home? Enough, you say? Perfect!

Our class is dismissed!

In an interview a few months ago, Skip Carnine was asked to reflect on his experiences as an education administrator. His answer was interesting, and it including this comment: “Being a principal and a superintendent means that you live in a glass house…”

Skip may have been a great teacher. And a great administrator. But he apparently never learned state legislators live in even bigger glass houses. Or that the people’s money is a sacred trust.

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