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Barfield: IL case should be closed

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By Jesef Williams

Sixth Circuit Solicitor Doug Barfield has recommended that a case be closed regarding allegations of misappropriated funds at Indian Land High School that date back to 1999.  Earlier this month, Barfield gave a four-page report to the State Law Enforcement Division about his conclusion on the case involving a former administrative assistant who was accused of using student government funds for personal use and being paid more than $18,000 for days she did not work. Donna McClennen, a former secretary at the school, said the activities occurred between 1999 and 2004, and that the principal at the time also missed days beyond her allowance and failed to properly document those absences.  McClennen reported her allegations to district personnel in 2002 and filed a complaint with  SLED in 2004.  She alleged that: - The former administrative assistant took sick days beyond her allowed paid sick time between 1999 and 2004 and failed to record them in the official attendance record. As a result, she was paid more than $18,000 in unwarranted earnings.  - The employee received $2,100 in student government money that went toward the construction of a deck and skirting at her mobile home.  - The ILHS principal at the time worked reduced work schedules and also missed a significant number of days that went unreported.  - The district authorized nine additional comp days for the administrative assistant in 2004 at the request of the former principal, with the knowledge that the employee and principal had already failed to report months of missed work.  SLED agents and Barfield had looked into the case since 2004. Here’s what Barfield concluded:  Student government money  Barfield said there are disputes about the nature of the student government funds transaction, who initiated it and who authorized it.  Barfield learned the school district had no written guidelines for how student government accounts and similar funds could be used. As a result, he cannot conclude that the use of the funds for the administrative assistant’s benefit was in violation of any state laws.  “However, it does appear to have been an exercise in poor judgment at least and perhaps ethically inappropriate,” he said.  Barfield said documentation was provided that indicates the $2,100 was repaid by monthly deductions from the administrative assistant’s paycheck.  The employee, who was transferred to Lancaster High School, was later fired for missing too many days.  Barfield recommended no charges be brought in connection with the student government money issue.  Excessive sick days  In his report, Barfield said a sign-in/sign-out sheet was not used during most of the period of the unreported absences. During some portion of that time, a day planner was used to record attendance, but that planner may have been thrown away.  The principal and the administrative assistant used an informal “compensatory time system” that was not official school or district policy, Barfield said.  Barfield noted that the district previously concluded that the administrative assistant was granted time to which she wasn’t entitled and docked her nine days for it. Unanswered questions  After investigations by several groups, including SLED, the school district, the State Ethics Commission and the governor’s office, Barfield said many questions remain unanswered.  However, he said the following are clear: - The students government funds should not have been used for the benefit of a district employee.  - The principal and administrative assistant likely received compensation for days they didn’t work. Informal practices and understandings were in place that make it impossible to determine the extent to which they were paid for work not performed.  - If charged, neither could document extra time at work sufficient to compensate for unreported days absent. But in a court of law, neither would be required to prove anything.  “The burden of proof would be upon the state to prove allegations of violations of our law beyond a reasonable doubt,” Barfield said. “I conclude I could not meet that burden.” McClennen: Some consolation  McClennen said the conclusion substantiated her allegations and gives her gratification, as she knows the student government funds were returned to the ILHS student government account.  “Clearly, we had serious internal issues at the district and board levels and our one consolation is that none of the employees or district officials responsible for this debacle no longer work for our school district and children,” McClennen said. School district’s reaction  District superintendent Dr. Gene Moore said district personnel have cooperated fully with authorities who sought information on this case.  Moore, who came to the district in 2006, said he’s glad that Barfield has recommended the case be closed. He said the district takes such allegations seriously.  “We certainly are diligent in trying to look into these things carefully,” Moore said.  School board member Don McCorkle, who has represented the Indian Land area on the board since 2006, recently sent an e-mail to McClennen sharing his thoughts about the matter.  McClennen has since sent that e-mail to Barfield and SLED to be included as an official file in the case.  In the e-mail, McCorkle said Dr. Pat Burns, who was the superintendent at the time of the misappropriations, “has too many political friends and too much social standing to be put in an embarrassing situation.” When asked if that statement referred to the idea that school board members and district officials at the time wanted to make Burns look good, McCorkle said that was not the case.  McCorkle, who was elected to the board in 2006, later told The Lancaster News that he isn’t in a position to comment extensively about the case because he wasn’t on the school board at the time of the case.  “I don’t know enough,” McCorkle said.  Based on what he’s learned from the SLED file, McCorkle believes the case should have been resolved before now. But again, he said he doesn’t know what then-board members, district officials or the superintendent did to examine the situation.  “I can’t make legitimate comments,” he said. “I don’t know how she (Burns) handled it.” McGriff: Matter has been resolved Board chairwoman Charlene McGriff, who’s served on the board since 1994, said the district responded to the allegations in a timely manner and did all it could to resolve the situation.  McGriff dismisses the notion that board members and district officials “turned their back” on the matter in an attempt to make the district and the superintendent look good.  “It had nothing to do with that,” McGriff said.  “The district did what we were supposed to do,” she said. “The matter has been resolved.”  Since that time, the district has done a better job of documenting sick time and absences, she said. She calls the incident at Indian Land High a “one-time occurrence.”  “Because of that, it has made us be more detailed with documentation,” she said. 

Contact reporter Jesef Williams at jwilliams@thelancasternews.com