Many of you saw a report aired by Fox 17 last night. It alleged that we have a repeated pattern of theft in our district and sited the prosecution of a principal, bookkeeper and a coach within the past six years.
This is an oddly timed news story as it ties together a suspended employee who is being prosecuted and not due to appear in court until May 28 with two individuals from different schools who were prosecuted several years ago. Both employees involved in the previous incidents were prosecuted, and full restitution was paid to the school district. Both of the previous incidents were also widely covered by the local media at the time of each occurrence.
Here are the facts about the cases:
- The District Attorney is in the process of prosecuting former HHS Wrestling Coach William Lackey for theft from Hendersonville High School's wrestling funds. This investigation was initiated by our Internal Auditor Lisa Sweeney, who discovered that Mr. Lackey was using school funds for personal use. As is our protocol, Mrs. Sweeney reported her findings to the Hendersonville Police Department for criminal prosecution. Mr. Lackey has been suspended without pay pending the outcome of the criminal investigation against him. Mr. Lackey will be arraigned on his charges on May 28.
- Former Millersville Principal Shelly Petty was convicted in 2011 of stealing $124.96 from Millersville Elementary. Again, this investigation was initiated by our Internal Auditor Lisa Sweeney after she discovered discrepancies in Millersville's books. As is our protocol, Mrs. Sweeney reported her findings to the Sumner County Sheriff's Department for criminal prosecution. Mrs. Petty was prosecuted, convicted and placed on six months probation and required to pay $682.37 in court costs and restitution to the school district. Mrs. Petty resigned from the school system in March 2011.
- Penny Knight is the former bookkeeper of Beech Elementary who was convicted in September 2012 of stealing $19,135 from the school. Mrs. Knight was sentenced to six years probation and required to pay $19,135 in restitution to the school district. Again, this investigation was initiated by our Internal Auditor Lisa Sweeney after she discovered discrepancies in Beech Elementary's books. As is our protocol, Mrs. Sweeney reported her findings to the Sumner County Sheriff's Department for criminal prosecution. Mrs. Knight was terminated in September 2010.
Here are the facts about the Fox 17 story:
- The report blatantly misrepresented the statements of our County Executive Anthony Holt. Attached is a letter from Mr. Holt setting the record straight. Please click here for Mr. Holt’s letter.
- The report also featured statements from a "former teacher" named Annie Morton-Krise. The truth is Ms. Morton-Krise has NEVER been employed by Sumner County Schools.
The three above cases clearly show that our internal controls are working. In each case, our Internal Auditor identified the fraud and pursued prosecution. Without the school system’s audit process, police wouldn’t have been notified nor would have any of these individuals been held accountable for their inappropriate actions. In each case we worked with police and the District Attorney to hold the employees accountable, and the school district received full restitution.
As Director of Schools, I take it very personally when our district is accused of having no accountability and when ALL of our teachers and staff are accused of theft and corruption due to the inappropriate decisions and actions of only a FEW. These three individual cases, which occurred over a six-year period, are in no way representative of how our district operates and the thousands of employees on our staff who show up for work everyday and do the right thing. Nowhere in the report does it mention the countless teachers in our district who spend their own money on their classrooms, which is certainly more representative of the norm in our underfunded school district.
Unfortunately, this story and its timing are typical of the political environment in Sumner County that’s existed for decades, and it’s time for a change.