Denver schools investigated former principal over $175K in purchases, then promoted her

Dec. 11—A high-powered, influential Denver Public Schools principal with a history of financial woes was investigated last year over allegations that more than $175,000 was misspent on district credit cards — nearly half of it unaccounted for and without receipts — but managed to keep her job and was eventually promoted, according to documents obtained by The Gazette and interviews.

And although the school district in mid-2020 confiscated the credit card it issued to Kimberly Grayson, the principal at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Early College middle and high school in northeast Denver, over concerns of misspending — as well as the cards issued to three others she supervised at the school — the district later gave the card back to Grayson and, according to documents, her spending quickly resumed.

Additional allegations of misspending in 2021 resulted in a full-blown investigation, but Grayson remained on the job and was given a promotion as it continued, records show. People familiar with the inquiry said they were confident all the transactions were made on Grayson's behalf.

One of the other three employees whose card was confiscated left the district before investigators could interview her; the other two remain employed by DPS. The district would not identify them.

Grayson resigned in August 2022 amid a different investigation that was launched into allegations she racially discriminated and retaliated against some DPS employees.

The Denver District Attorney's Office has recently launched its own inquiry into the financial affair, according to people familiar with that probe.

DPS's initial internal nine-month investigation into how Grayson used the credit card provided to her — known as a P-card — uncovered dozens of eyebrow-raising purchases that people familiar with the inquiry said occurred without explanation or rationale.

It began in January 2021 following a complaint about the alleged misappropriation of money that came through DPS's fraud hotline a month earlier, district officials confirmed, and ended in September 2021.

But rather than face harsh discipline — the district will not say what penalty she was given and refused to release any details about its investigation other than some receipts and a general accounting overview of how the money was spent — Grayson remained at the school as its principal through the end of the 2021-22 school year.

Grayson was given an admonishment and remedial training for how to properly use the credit card, which was eventually taken from her, according to people familiar with the investigation who were not authorized to speak about it publicly. Investigators were unable to specifically determine if Grayson made all the purchases herself or if someone else had made them at her direction, those sources said.

DPS again confiscated Grayson's P-card in April 2021 following additional allegations of misspending, the district confirmed.

Grayson told students' parents in a May 2022 letter that she was leaving MLK for a job at DPS headquarters as its director of specialized student service plans with a concentration on Black excellence plans. District officials confirmed she was given the job, without a raise to her $189,000 salary as MLK's principal.

"I take comfort in knowing I will still be able to support and collaborate with this school at the district level and return from time to time to check on and support the needs of this school and visit where I have poured my heart and soul for the past nine years," Grayson wrote in her May 26 letter, a copy of which was posted on the school's Facebook page. "Here's to continuing the work we have started."

But Grayson never started the new job. Instead, she was placed on administrative leave as additional allegations about her spending and personal conduct surfaced and her credit card was again confiscated. She remained on leave until she resigned in August, refusing to cooperate with the investigations, people familiar with the probe said.

Grayson could not be reached for comment and did not respond to email and text messages left for her by The Gazette.

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Some of the items purchased on the P-cards were shipped to Grayson's mother in Wichita, Kan., documents show, but the majority went to Grayson's Aurora home, the documents show.

They included:

— More than 60 Barbie dolls costing $2,864.

— 107 purchases of games, toys and remote control cars for nearly $2,000.

— 73 other dolls for $2,639.

— Nearly $1,000 in scented candles and $280 in essential oils.

— Dallas Cowboys-branded steering wheel and headrest covers.

— 50 bulletproof inserts for backpacks for more than $7,500.

— Nearly a dozen Netflix subscriptions.

— A half dozen under-desk treadmills for $2,500.

— $6,000 in graduate school tuition for an employee with close ties to Grayson.

— Nine genetic testing kits totaling nearly $600.

— An inflatable man for $79.

— A Michael Kors designer bag for $140.

— Four charges totaling $12,000 for production services to a vendor with an apparent conflict of interest, although it's unclear how. About $6,000 of the charges couldn't be explained.

— A trio of yoga instruction sessions at nearly $600 for a yoga instructor.

— Nearly $73,000 in undefined purchases that had no receipt.

While some of the items appear to be things a teacher or administrator could purchase for their students or families affiliated with the school, district officials said they've been unable to find or identify the recipients of the bulk of the items.