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When properly communicated and carried out, the words, “We’re watching you” can be powerful.
They apparently haven’t been uttered by the board of trustees for the Cannelton City Schools.
Who was minding the cash drawer for the school corporation as hundreds of thousands of dollars were being diverted? And why were most of the diversions not detected or acted upon until a state audit was conducted?
The findings of that audit, and actions launched to recover money from former Cannelton Schools Superintendent Al Chapman, were detailed in News stories Aug. 23 and 27.
Perhaps Chapman was clever enough to hide much of the alleged malfeasance from those charged with watching what goes on in the school corporation.
Or perhaps they weren’t watching closely enough.
Treasurer Melissa Embry tried to fulfill the watchdog role assigned to people in her position by Indiana law, according to a statement in the audit. Auditor Tom Alles reported that she signed an affidavit saying, “In July of 2008, Mr. Chapman instructed me to discontinue payment of federal taxes until further notice. I went to Mr. Chapman several times with the amount of money we owed to the IRS and received no response from him.”
Chapman did communicate with her when the corporation received a $333,333 donation, telling her to put it in the corporation’s general fund. The corporation’s attorney told the superintendent in a May 2011 letter the Dorothy von Solbrig Income Trust couldn’t be used in that way, the auditor wrote. Board member Barbara Beard said in her own affidavit she questioned that spending after reading in an Indiana School Boards Association newsletter it would be illegal.
“I specifically asked Mr. Chapman in a board meeting if he knew whether or not this law pertained to the trust,” she wrote. “He stated he did not know.”
“Shortly after I became treasurer in July 2007”, Embry also swore, “Mr. Chapman would occasionally submit claims for compensation other than that included on the semi-monthly payroll. These claims included things such as grant administration and the payment of (an) annuity directly to Mr. Chapman. There were also times he would have the deputy treasurer change the wording on our claim docket so it would not read ‘M. Chapman grant admin pay.’”
Many more allegations are asserted in the 35-page audit and a 13-page supplement. Perhaps most telling is that Chapman is alleged to have received $206,688 more than his contract authorized in the six-and-a-half years he served as superintendent.
All of the additional payments were included on claim dockets signed by the school board, Alles wrote.
Embry and Beard are to be commended for raising questions when they did. Considering the responsibility their positions impart to them and to the other board members, however, none of them should have settled for anything less than complete certainty that all of the spending was proper.
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