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Office of Education Accountability report clears school board

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Two-day investigation results in few substantiated violations

By Linda Ireland

Nearly three months ago, the state Office of Education Accountability conducted a two-day investigation into seven complaints about the LaRue County School Board, Superintendent Sam Sanders and his wife, Dee Anne Sanders, who is coordinator of child nutrition for the district.

The complaints ranged from open meetings violations to allegations of nepotism and waste of district resources. The complainant’s name was not released by the OEA.

According to three reports issued by OEA Director Marcia Ford Seiler, a complaint dealing with Open Meetings Law was the only one substantiated during the June 19-20 investigation.

The Herald News received copies of the reports dated Sept. 9 on Monday through an open records request.

Wasted gas?

The investigation concluded that no violation of law or policy existed when a full-size bus was used to transport students and teachers on a school-sponsored trip. The complaint alleged that the bus transported two students and two teachers to a local store in February 2008 and the bus remained idling while the four were inside. The special education students were participating in a required community-based instruction program.

Political activity

The report found no violation of law or policy when Sam Sanders advocated the nickel tax increase for construction or by using district resources to create buttons and flyers supporting the tax. Sanders provided the investigators with an e-mail where he had sought advice from the Legal, Legislative and Communications Service with the Kentucky Department of Education as to whether district funds could be used to generate materials in support of the nickel tax.

Nepotism

The report noted that Dee Anne Sanders had 36 months of service before her husband was hired as superintendent. She had a total of 14 years of experience in the district prior to her husband’s appointment. She was hired as director of child nutrition in 2000 by Superintendent Bill Twyman. As long as she does not hold supervisory authority, she is lawfully employed in her present job. The food service managers are supervised by their principals or school administrative managers.

Half of the schools’ food service managers believe that each encounter with Dee Anne Sanders constitutes supervision on her part. The other half do not, the report said.

The report suggests that Dee Anne Sanders work more closely with school principals in her communications with the food service managers.

Withholding food

The OEA could not substantiate a claim that Dee Anne Sanders ordered food withheld from students. No one interviewed during the investigation confirmed the allegation. The principals said no complaints had been received that food was being withheld in their schools.

The report noted that students who have a significant debt for regular meal purchases were not allowed to purchase additional food on credit.

Open Meetings Law

Between September 2002 and January 2008, the board met in closed session 47 times – 21 times for the purpose of superintendent evaluation. Twelve times were matters of student discipline. Four closed sessions were held for which the board failed to record its purpose for meeting privately.

Superintendent Sanders reported he had started an executive session prior to the start of the regular board meeting for the purpose of touring buildings and speaking with faculty. “Some of the board members seemed confused as to the purpose of these sessions,” according to the report.

The closed sessions that did not name a reason violated provisions of KRS 61.810 and 61.815. Sanders changed the district’s procedures for entering closed session and advised the OEA via e-mail on June 20, 2008.

“Therefore no further resolution is necessary,” the report concluded.

Financial conflict of interest

The report rejected a claim of conflict of interest with Magnolia Bank as the superintendent did not derive any benefit or have any interest in the bank, where his brother is president. Additionally, he did not participate in negotiating the contract.

Excessive price for land purchase

The report did not substantiate an allegation of violating board powers regarding the purchase of 15-plus acres as a site for Abraham Lincoln Elementary School for $307,500. The appraised value of the land was $133,000 more than the price paid.

Response to investigation

Each of the board members, Price Smith, Denny Duggins, Ronnie Chelf, Anita Cruse and Dick Greenwell; Superintendent Sanders; and Dee Anne Sanders were given an opportunity to comment on the investigation.

Sanders said via e-mail that he would respond for the group:

“First of all, I think the report speaks for itself, but I would like to say that the board and administration make every effort possible to operate our school system in the best interests of the students and community. We always strive for ways to be more effective and efficient and would gladly welcome any comments and/or suggestions if it is in the best interests of our students and citizens of LaRue County. The board, administration, and I understand that we are vested by the people of this community with the solemn responsibility of educating our children, and that we are ultimately accountable to the citizens and taxpayers for the manner in which we do our jobs. I am confident this report assures the people of LaRue County that their chosen leaders are doing their very best to carry out their duties in a thoughtful and proper manner.”