Fancy bookwork

Report says CUSD fees, accounting are bigger problems than Sloan

FEELING VINDICATED Jeff Sloan says the CUSD’s allegations that he misused student funds didn’t hurt just him and his family, but everyone at Marsh Junior High School, where he was principal.

FEELING VINDICATED Jeff Sloan says the CUSD’s allegations that he misused student funds didn’t hurt just him and his family, but everyone at Marsh Junior High School, where he was principal.

Photo By Tom Angel

The CUSD has been illegally charging students for gym uniforms and classroom materials, student funds aren’t always going in the right accounts and egos drove charges of financial misconduct against a popular principal, this year’s grand jury report alleges. When asked about it, the jury found CUSD officials downright “hostile” and “defensive,” the report states.

The grand jury also concludes that the district should retract its allegations against demoted former Marsh Junior High School Principal Jeff Sloan, because he didn’t misuse public funds as CUSD officials had charged.

“Behind closed doors people were willing to be honest,” said Sloan, who feels both he and the Marsh staff have been vindicated. “It’s been a very difficult year.”

The grand jury recommends that the district no longer charge materials fees, even if it offers fee waivers—a process the jury called an invasion of privacy and against the state Education Code. The jury’s report also finds fault with schools grading students down for failing to wear the required gym uniforms. And the group was particularly disturbed that if students didn’t pay the required fees—sometimes euphemistically called “donations"—to participate in art classes and Chico High “learning communities,” their grades were lowered, diplomas withheld and/or they were reported to a credit bureau.

“Other school districts in Butte County and California are able to abide by the free school guarantee for their children as mandated under current California law,” the jury writes.

Also, more than $100,000 raised for the Chico High choir trip to China was handled by the choir director rather than through traditional CUSD bookkeeping channels. The jury didn’t like that, nor the practice of using some students’ money to make up the difference when others came up short and then withholding the diplomas of those who don’t pay it back by graduation.

The report goes on to say that school site-level accounting practices in the district are inconsistent and in violation of state rules, and that the District Office is itself guilty of the same types of transgressions used to hang Sloan in that it didn’t adequately oversee the books at school sites and wrongly used bilingual education funds to pay teachers. A case in which student-raised money was transferred to CUSD and North Valley Community Foundation accounts was more troublesome to the jury than the “sloppy bookkeeping” that went on at Marsh.

The report states that the grand jury was confused by how Superintendent Scott Brown handled the Marsh issue, and, “what ensued was an all-out war of egos and a total unwillingness of the people involved to back down.”

The grand jury recommended that the CUSD issue a public statement either making it clear that “the questioned practices occurred throughout all secondary schools” or retract the allegations it had made against Sloan.

“We surmise that the demotion of the former principal of Marsh Junior High School was cover for other misappropriations and likely punishment for his failure to transfer ASB funds to the district’s accounts to ‘cover negative classroom balances,'” the report reads.

Neither Sloan nor his attorney, Susan Minasian, would say whether they might use the grand jury report to bolster potential legal claims against the district. “The school board needs to do the right thing and [assign Sloan] to an equivalent position,” Minasian said.

The jury also noted a “hostile tone” from CUSD officials during its inquiries, and, “a complacent and defensive tenor in many members of the district’s school board and district office that may make problem-solving and communication nearly impossible.”

Of school board members, the grand jury chose to talk only to Trustees Scott Huber and Jann Reed, who both supported Sloan.

Brown, who said he’s sure he wasn’t hostile toward the grand jury, said the July 20 Board of Trustees meeting will likely include a discussion of when and how to address the findings.