Investigation reveals theft, questionable transactions

An investigation into the Mount Pleasant School District has uncovered more than $1,000 worth of stolen gasoline and $4,000 in “questionable” transactions over a 3-year time period by former employee Cheryl Randall.

The report, released last week by the Washington State Auditor’s Office, includes an investigation into reimbursements for mileage, hotel, registrations, certification fees and insurance co-payments, along with fuel purchases made with a district credit card while in Randall’s possession.

Randall, 59, admitted to using a district credit card to purchase $500 in gasoline for her personal vehicle at Hi-Way Fuel in Washougal on numerous occasions between October 2010 and 2011.

Randall served as the district’s bus driver, recess aide, cafeteria and custodial supervisor, and she oversaw building maintenance. She resigned from the school district in late May after being charged with theft.

However, the audit revealed that discrepancies in fuel purchases and use went back to 2008. The report also notes that while the district had four credit cards, most purchases were made using the card assigned to Randall. She also had access to the other cards.

In addition to fuel purchases, the audit reviewed Randall’s timecards, reimbursements and credit card purchases for the district.

A review of Randall’s timecard indicated she worked more hours as a bus driver than were listed in the schedule, with no documentation that the extra hours were approved.

“An increase in bus driving hours resulted in a decrease in recess aide hours and in a net increase in wages of $668.97 between September 2009 and April 2011,” the report stated.

The pay per hour for bus driving duties was $18.13, while the recess aide time was $12 per hour.

In addition, the district reimbursed Randall’s mother for a $130 hotel charge without any invoice or receipt, and $747 in mileage to Randall for classes in Ocean Shores and Auburn, Wash., without verifying the class registration or agenda.

During a court hearing in June, Randall told Judge Darvin Zimmerman that she didn’t charge the school district gas mileage when using her personal vehicle for errands. Between 2008 and 2011, the audit report estimates that Randall purchased $1,819.57 in fuel, but only $467 was used for district purposes.

Randall was also allowed to purchase items using the district’s petty cash account which totalled $1,690, with no supporting documentation kept by the district.

Superintendent Linda Slattery reported the fuel usage to the auditor’s office in October after going over receipts and noticing what seemed to be a large amount of gasoline purchased for the district’s lawn mower.

Before going to the auditor’s office, Slattery, who had just begun as superintendent a few months prior, asked board member Peggy Carroll for guidance in the situation.

“When I called her, she advised me to keep it internal, and have Cheryl pay the money back,” Slattery said during a phone interview Friday.

According to accounts from Slattery and the audit report, Randall turned in a signed statement on Oct. 13, 2011, saying that she used the card to purchase fuel for personal use and would pay the district $500.

Slattery noted that the following workday she called the auditor’s office to begin an investigation into the matter, as required by state law.

“I was naive,” she said. “I should have called the auditor from the start, but Peggy Carroll was the one who advised me on situations.”

When asked why Randall was not put on administrative leave or terminated after admitting to the theft, Slattery said board chair Dolores (De) Nelson pressured her to retain the bus driver.

“I worked to do my job and preserve my relationship with the board, and let the audit determine the findings,” Slattery said.

When contacted by the Post-Record, Carroll said, “I don’t want to be quoted as saying anything. This isn’t good for our district.”

She also directed the Post-Record to contact Nelson, but numerous attempts to reach her were unsuccessful.

Since the incident began, Slattery said she has felt “harassed and intimidated” by Nelson and Carroll.

“It’s hard to do my job and be at board meetings now,” she said.

Slattery serves as the board secretary, in addition to district superintendent.

But Monday night, she made the decision to resign her position. Her resignation is effective Aug. 17.

She said once the decision was made, it was a huge sense of relief.

“Life is too short to deal with uncomfortable situations like this,” Slattery said.

Although she won’t be with the district much longer, Slattery has found someone to replace Randall. Dale Grams, who turned down the job after being at a particularly contentious board meeting last month, has reconsidered.

His contract will be up for approval at tonight’s School Board meeting. “He’s very experienced and a good person,” Slattery said.

Recommendations

The audit report recommends that the district develop policies on expenditures and reimbursements, as well as have Randall pay back the $1,020 in stolen gasoline and $5,400 for the cost of the resulting investigation.

Slattery said that she is hoping Randall will agree to a payment plan during her sentencing hearing in Camas-Washougal Municipal Court on Aug. 2.

“If she doesn’t, I will recommend that the district pursue this,” she said. “She is the one who caused the expense. We can’t afford to cover it.”

Mindy Chambers, spokesperson for the auditor’s office, said the agency would follow up with the district during its next audit in 2013 to see if any changes have been made.

“They say that they are actively pursuing our recommendations,” she said. “We’ll follow up to see if it’s working a year from now. We always say that the best outcome of an audit is that they take action to address the issues. It’s a tool to improve operations.”