State audit of coaching supplements released last week

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

By Karen Hall

Staff Writer

State audit findings related to payments to football coaches at Marshall County High School were released last week.

The Comptroller of the Treasury's office summarized the audit findings in a letter addressed to the director of schools and members of the board of education. The letter concludes with the statement, "The director and members of the school board should take immediate action to resolve these issues."

Action has already been taken, said schools director Jackie Abernathy.

"We will make sure this doesn't happen again," Abernathy said in a phone interview Monday. She pointed out that all of the audit findings related to events prior to her administration.

"It's not anything we've done since I've been" director, Abernathy said. "We have made the adjustment so there will be no further finding."

"We've definitely got it under control now," confirmed Budget Director Janet Wiles.

Wiles was budget director when John David Pierce started the system of giving certified employees extra per-hour pay for work done in addition to the seven-and-a-half hour school day.

"The school board approved that (in December 2006) and it was in the teacher contract when I was superintendent," Pierce said Friday. "It started out as a good idea. I don't know what happened, but something undoubtedly went wrong. It was recently they've had the problem."

Wiles agreed with him.

"It got a whole lot worse when we left," she said, referring to her resignation in May 2010. "We discovered when we came back (March 2012) they did not have a limit. It was really out of control."

Wiles said other directors she worked under would put a limit on the extra per-hour pay going to coaches.

The director who was in charge when Wiles was out of office was now-retired Roy Dukes. He was made interim director in October 2009, when the school board fired Dr. Stan Curtis. Dukes was confirmed as director in February 2010, and remained in office until March 2012, when Abernathy took over.

One of Abernathy's first actions was to bring Wiles back to Central Office as budget director.

"We've definitely got it under control now," Wiles said. A limit on money spent on field maintenance has been set, and a plan has to be submitted in advance.

The new list of coaching supplements approved by the school board at this month's meeting includes a statement about per-hour payment for work, not including coaching, in addition to the school day, but states, "These activities must be approved in advance by the Director of Schools and the Board. Time sheets must be submitted by the principal." Earnings from coaching may now potentially be as high as $10,200 per year (head coach of one major high school sport, assistant coach of two sports), but the document specifies, in red, "This does not include mowing."

The letter from the Comptroller of the Treasury's Department of Audit, dated Feb. 20, is signed by Rene Brison, assistant director of the Division of Investigations.

In the letter, she reminds school board members and the director that the Board of Education and the Marshall County Education Association had a binding collective bargaining agreement, to which all certified staff were bound, from January 2009 to June 2011.

"This agreement... specifically excluded coaches ...who received the extra-curricular supplements listed in the agreement from receiving hourly pay for duties performed beyond the normal school day," wrote Brison.

However, the investigation by Brison and her colleagues revealed, "During this period.....the former director apparently facilitated the breach of the agreement when he endorsed the continuation of the hourly supplemental pay to the MCHS coaches and specifically promised it to newly hired football coaching staff at MCHS in July 2010."

Judging by the dates, this statement has to refer to Dukes, and to former coach Tom Turchetta.

Brison's letter specifies, "Hourly supplemental payments made to coaching staff at MCHS from January 2007 through April 2012 totaled $148.574.80. Payments made while the collective bargaining agreement was in effect totaled over $70,000."

"The current board was not aware of the payments made to coaches at MCHS," said Brison in a telephone interview Friday. She also noted coaches at the other two high schools did not appear to have been aware of the possibility of making more money by claiming pay for extra hours worked.

Abernathy made a clean sweep of MCHS football coaches when contracts came up for renewal in summer 2012. Turchetta was not renewed, nor were Alex Melton and Lance Evans. A third assistant coach, Steven McClanahan, a special education teacher, was transferred to Oak Grove Elementary School.

Brison declined to speculate on the consequences of the audit for individuals or Marshall County schools as a whole. The deficiencies in internal controls relative to supplemental pay must be corrected, Brison said, and, according to Wiles and Abernathy, they have been.

"The frequent changeovers of administrators probably had something to do with these payments happening without the board's knowlege," said Brison.