AUSTIN (KXAN) — An audit of a local school system shows how mismanagement of funds put children at risk. We first reported last month on two Manor ISD employees who resigned after being placed on administrative leave in the midst of an audit, even before findings were presented to school board members this week. We have since learned another faculty member has stepped down. KXAN examined not only at what went wrong, but how new leadership hopes to make it right.
Out of whack spending, overpaid employees, coaches added to the payroll under the table, and outright lies were all accusations that appeared in the audit. For the best example of just how off balance the system was, we had to look no further than the Manor High School’s color guard program.
As the sun set on a Manor High School soccer game Friday night, Manor ISD Board Trustee Sam Samaripa couldn’t help but think about the investigation.
“It’s just a bad situation for all the other programs, because they needed the funding,” Samparipa said.
What he was referring to, is the business office’s executive director, who doubles as the color guard director, which the audit says permitted him to promote funding of color guard, while slashing other budgets.
Case in point, this school year, color guard’s budget is $92,000 for just 18 participants. Meanwhile, cheerleading has $15,000 for 30 participants, and dance a mere $3,000 budgeted for 200 participants. The audit details how the director used a derogatory term to refer to the then dance instructor at a school event attended by MISD staff and parents.
“His feelings towards the dance instructor undoubtedly had a negative impact on the dance team budget,” investigators reported in the audit.
“That was the first warning sign, when that color guard had that type of district budget? That doesn’t happen,” Jye Turk told KXAN, pausing and shaking his head, “That doesn’t happen.”
Jye Turk now works as an AVID and Gear Up tutor for Manor ISD, having stepped down from his role as Percussion Director.
Kylie McGivern: “Is that because of what you saw?”
Jye Turk: “99.9%. Maybe a solid 100.”
The investigation revealed the color guard director, “hired and paid MISD Color Guard Coaches outside of the HR process for new employees,” meaning, “instructors, who had not been fingerprinted or background checked, worked directly with students.”
That director, and two other employees, have since resigned.
The audit also found a severe lack of supervision in the business office, with a former employee mistakenly receiving a check for more than $70,000 and spending the money on a Mercedes Benz before the error was ever detected.
The audit said, “Virtually every witness we spoke with described a belief that some District employees were ‘untouchable’ because they had connections with the Superintendent (Kevin Brackmeyer) or Board members.”
Interim Deputy Superintendent Roy Knight, in for Kevin Brackmeyer who has been on Family Medical Leave for the last month, was promoted to acting superintendent at this week’s board meeting. He told KXAN he’s in the process of meeting with employees named in the investigation to determine the best ways to move the district forward.
“Part of this is what we’re doing today. Is talking about it, and telling the people that we ARE going to go forward, we ARE going to overcome, and the district’s gonna get better,” Samaripa said.
“As my eyes are on the recent events coming to light through the forensic audit at Manor, I am incredibly proud of an administration that is willing to publicly admit the misconduct that had occurred over the past years. For me, personally, this was never about money. I hope the communities around Manor can support the district in any way possible as they try to rebuild trust within the community. The frustration for me was always that the dance program was growing at an incredible rate. Our successes were not being celebrated by the district though we were being acknowledged continually by dance educators locally, nationally, and internationally. The dance program continues to work as a vehicle of empowerment for students striving for success in their education. Unfortunately, the focus is always on funding and trophies, but the possibilities of the arts in education are innumerable. I would also hope that others would not vilify the district based on individuals who clearly made big mistakes. I think the real concern is how this was all possible. There are some bigger flaws in public education at a state and national level. The question is how can we create positive environments where districts, administrators, teachers and students can thrive, strive for success, and be held accountable for their actions,”Michelle “Chell” Parkins wrote KXAN in a statement. Parkins is Manor ISD’s former Dance Director and instructor, interviewed and named in the audit.
The Texas Education Agency (TEA) says it opened Special Accreditation Investigation (SAI) into Manor ISD a few months ago and it remains ongoing.
TEA explained, “An SAI is a special investigation that the commissioner can request for a school district for basically any reason he determines. But they are usually done when a ISD has severe governance issues that begin to affect district performance; when there are issues with testing or accountability, finances, data reported to the state, and other issues as outlined under Texas Education Code 39.057.”
You can read the audit in full here, detailing other questionable payments, employee actions, and a recommendation to further investigate the handling of stolen band activity funds.