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Thursday November 27th 2014

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Tarnished Turnaround

White said that at WMS, “All the kids were telling on each other.” Everyone was blaming everything on one particular female student.

The next morning White took a disc created from the video tape to Principal Rush and watched it with her. Rush admonished her for leaving Ransom without a teacher on the bus and for not stopping the bus to correct the misconduct.

White told Dobbs she was upset about the sexual misconduct and hadn’t slept well since the night of the incident.

From the public record request, we also got Dobbs’ notes from an interview conducted on March 3, 2009. The names have been redacted, but the interviewee is telling Dobbs that three girls were taking their clothes off. “They put it on their cell phones.”

Alan Scott, Assistant Superintendent for Human Resource Services, told the IN the two teachers received formal counseling sessions and were reported to the Office of Professional Practices Services (PPS). “The investigator for PPS determined there was no probable cause for action against these individuals’ teaching certificates,” said Scott.

The IN emailed Deputy Superintendent Norm Ross about why WMS didn’t report the offense to FDOE and asked were there any other incidents of crime or violence that WMS failed to report? The paper didn’t receive a reply.

BATTLE OVER SCHOOL EXPENDITURES

Dobbs and the Internal Auditing Department investigated the financial practices of Rush. The WMS bookkeeper, Janie Henry, and district staff battled the principal over expenditures.

Henry’s distress over the conflicts led the 20-year district employee to ask first Steve Marcaino, Director of Middle School Education, and later Dobbs whether she should report her concerns to the State Attorney. As the internal audit was being finalized, she asked David Bryant, Director of Internal Auditing, in an email, “Do I have the protection of the Whistle Blower?”

Henry’s problems with her new principal began the summer of 2009, when the newly-hired Rush used Title I funds to decorate her and others’ offices, despite Henry’s objections. According to Henry’s notes, she was told by Wanda Mathis in Budgeting that Rush had been told those type of expenditures weren’t allowed. Rush still bought $743.57 worth of pictures, silk flowers, decorative clocks and mirrors. Accounting Operations in the district offices later determined Henry was right that the purchases weren’t consistent with budget guidelines.

As late as November 2010, auditors were trying to locate where the items were. The IN public record request revealed an email from Henry to one of the auditors, “I believe that some things are not even here anymore. But I will predict that all will appear or a replacement for them will be made. And (Rush) did tell you that Andrews paid for the things in her office, but she did not. You are my hero.”

Two days later, Rush apologized to the auditor in an email for incorrectly describing what she had purchased. “I was responding based on my memory…It was never my intent to give you wrong information regarding the safari pictures or any other item.”

The auditors cited the decorations in the Audit of Internal Funds Report for the school that was presented to the School Board at its Jan. 4, 2011 meeting. According to the auditors, Rush initially indicated that she was going to personally reimburse the school for the purchases. Instead, she used the General Fund in the WMS internal accounts, which is sort of like the school’s petty cash, to reimburse the District, expending 55 percent of the available funds in that account.

In her response to the auditors, Rush wrote, “I submitted to you a letter on July 30, 2009 requesting that if you felt the expenditures were not appropriate after reviewing the receipt, to contact me and I would then reimburse the account. After not hearing from you, I was under the impression that the expenditure was appropriate.”

Bryant told Dobbs that he never received the letter. He wrote in an email, “It appears to me the letter could be an after-the-fact attempt to justify actions.”

“Do I have the protection of the Whistle Blower?”

Henry was also concerned that Rush bought over $6,000 worth of chairs and office furniture for administration offices and had instructed her to code the items for the classroom. In her notes, the bookkeeper wrote that the principal argued that she could do so because the old chairs were going to the classrooms. When Henry asked for a written justification, Rush refused to provide one.

In October 2009, Rush came to Henry and asked her to code classroom supplies for teachers as staff development. The principal had given the teachers $500 each and asked them to give her back $100 of it for copy paper.

This wasn’t specifically cited in the audit report, but the auditors noted that 16 out of the 41 disbursements tested (39 percent) didn’t have the Request for Purchase Order properly completed, including lacking the principal’s approval. Rush told the auditors the discrepancies were an oversight and would be corrected in the future.

Dobbs noted the coding issue in his final report. He stated that the improper financial management had substance and warranted planned control measures. However, he felt there was “no potential employee criminal misconduct.”

Bryant was more direct in his email to Dobbs, “At best, the General fund expenditures were minimally acceptable.” The head of internal auditing pointed out that the decoration expenditures weren’t reimbursed voluntarily by Rush and was only done by the school at the insistence of the District.

Bryant admitted to the IN that basically his office has no teeth. He can point inappropriate expenditures out, but ultimately, the principal and superintendent make the decision on what to do going forward. “Theoretically, a principal can say, ‘I don’t agree with anything you say and I’m not going to do anything.’ I can’t make any principal implement a rule,” said Bryant. “My hope is (Warrington Middle) is making changes.”

Bryant, in his Warrington Middle School audit and in an interview with IN, maintained that principals should avoid any appearance of impropriety regarding public power or resources.

“I personally feel in this particular situation there is a perception of impropriety, and I don’t think the purchases should be made. Ultimately, it is the board’s and superintendent’s decision of whether it is in their eyes or not.”

The IN made several attempts to call WMS bookkeeper Janie Henry, but she did not return the paper’s calls.

POSSIBLE FUNDRAISING SCAM
Dobbs also investigated an On the Job Training (OJT) student’s handling of a fundraiser, whose proceeds appeared to go directly to the student. Max—not his real name to protect his identity—was assigned as Principal Rush’s assistant and was paid $7.25 per hour for approximately 30 hours a week. Max worked for Rush at Montclair Elementary, and the principal had requested that he be transferred to WMS with her.

There was some confusion on campus among teachers, parents and students who he was and what his duties were. Thomas Jones remembers him making visitor badges. “I couldn’t figure out who he was,” said Jones. “I thought he was full-time employee, an assistant to the principal.”

Max told one staff member that he was a teacher assistant assigned to Student Services. “We knew (name) was special to Ms. Rush,” she told Dobbs, according to his notes. “I felt everybody knew they were close.”

In February 2010, WMS bookkeeper Janie Henry received a phone call from Fund Rays, a coupon book vendor, about the school owing the company $350 for 70 coupon books. She had no authorization for such a fundraiser and she notified the District office.

Henry found a letter regarding a fund-raising effort for the “First Priority Club” that was written by the student and possibly delivered to a WMS parent. The letter identified Max as the president of the club and asked parents to write checks to him for coupon books:

“As you know that we are selling coupon books for our club at Warrington Middle, we have a problem with our checking account, our non-profit Tax-Id information has expired will not be valid until the 3rd of January 2009, this mean (sic) I need all check (sic) made out to (his name) so that I am able to get checks into account.”

The letter had Max’s name at the bottom with a WMS telephone number.

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