School board faces questions about principal and money management
by Jack Deming
Feb 01, 2014 | 5445 views | 3 3 comments | 113 113 recommendations | email to a friend | print
READSBORO- A few residents attended the Readsboro school board meeting on Monday, hoping to get answers following the arrest of former principal Michael Heller on embezzlement and larceny charges. But there was little the board, WSSU superintendent Richard McClements, and WSSU finance chief Karen Atwood would comment on. Members of both the board and the WSSU expressed concern about jeopardizing any part of the ongoing legal proceedings, or facing legal action should they provide speculative information.

School board chair Larry Hopkins did, however, say that the school would be seeking retribution for the over $4,500 that was misappropriated. “The short answer is yes,” said Hopkins, “but how we’re going to get there I don’t know yet.” Hopkins also said the board has not been informed as to what degree they’ll be involved with the court case.

One resident, Cherrie Giddings, worked on the production of the school play “Yes, Virginia,” for which the school had received a $1,000 grant from Macy’s. “My concern is that I worked on the play, and we received a $1,000 grant,” said Giddings. “A lot of people had to do extra work and use their time and volunteered and donated time because there was no money, yet there was money, but someone else got it.”

“There are a couple other instances where people may have had money come up short,” responded Hopkins. “If we get the money back we’re going to take steps to make sure everyone is taken care of.” Hopkins also said that it was too early to tell whether Macy’s or Lowe’s, which gave the school a $5,000 grant, would seek retribution.

“We have to wait until the investigation and the court play out first,” said board member Dana Rapp. “If there was malfeasance, this board would want nothing more than to balance those accounts.”

Molly Frost asked how the alleged embezzlement went unnoticed. Hopkins said a previous superintendent had advised the principal on how to open a bank account independent of the central office, and over time it lost the oversight of the WSSU. “The two people involved with starting it are not here, and this is how it ended.”

Because of the detailed nature of the investigation, as well as the court case currently in progress against Heller, McClements said that he was told not to expect an expedited court process. “We can’t tell you about these things,” said McClements. “We can’t get into those kinds of discussions. All you need to know is that it was turned over to the police, they’re investigating, and the Agency of Education is also investigating. It will play itself out and I believe there will be justice. I know you want to hear more and I know you want to hear details but we can’t.”

McClements did assure that there would be no more principal-controlled grants or accounts and all grants, invoices, bank statements, and purchase orders will go through the WSSU central office.

As for the $200 in lunch money that Heller is accused of stealing, Hopkins said that he wasn’t sure that the money’s disappearance could be pinned on anybody. Atwood said that after the money started to disappear, steps were taken to deliver the money to the town office sooner.

Atwood also said an audit was not finished on the grants received because they could not find evidence of the grant revenue being received.

“Even if it hadn’t turned out the way we found it, there would have been a red flag in the audit report saying ‘Where is this money and have you received this money?’ said Atwood. ‘If so where is it?’ It would have come up eventually.”

“It’s more about looking backward at what we could have done differently and about being vigilant,” said Rapp. “If, through the court proceedings, the principal is found guilty, I think we need to think as a board about how much faith we had in this man. I think we need to be a little more critical.”
Comments-icon Post a Comment
Larry Hopkins
February 03, 2014
Captain, don't bother. I never used the word "retribution" as the article states, but according to the DVN they have it all "on tape". Its not the first, nor will it be the last issue of this type that surfaces.

Then they wonder why no one answers the phone when they call???
Larry Hopkins
February 01, 2014
There is one clarification in paragraph #6 that I would like to clear up. This also showed up in the hard copy version on the stands.

It states Hopkins said a previous superintendent advised the principal on how to open a bank account independent of the central office......when in fact,it was always Mr Heller's claim that he was advised by a former superintendent on how to handle the opening of the account. Neither I nor the board can confirm or deny his claim as there is no evidence to support his position.
John Ransom
February 03, 2014
For the reporter....the word is "restitution," not "retribution!"

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