Vidrine should not preside over any school finance investigations

Last week Superintendent Brent Vidrine suspended the principal of Shelling Elementary school in the wake of suspicions that someone on her staff may have acted inappropriately with school funds.

The principal, who is not one of the superintendent’s favorites, is being investigated on a number of accusations after the principal reported what appeared to be deposit irregularities on the school’s bank statement.  The principal at Shelling Elementary does not handle any finances at the school, but Vidrine is taking advantage of the situation to press a case against a principal who has fallen out of his favor.

Vidrine’s flash of integrity is amazing, especially since he faced accusations of credit card wrongdoing when he was principal of Neville that have never been fully explained and did not result in suspension, demotion or being fired.

In December of 2009, former board member Brenda Shelling wrote letters accusing four principals in the district of misusing school funds. The principals included: Sam Moore of Wossman, who bought gifts for staff members as tokens of appreciation; Addie Morehouse of Madison Foster, for buying $60 worth of gas for her vehicle and later reimbursing the school, and Janet Davis, for charges that appeared on the Lincoln school credit card for personal purchases of alcohol and other charges. (Discover Card officials informed the board that someone had stolen her identity, apologized and reimbursed the system).

2010: Vidrine fails to produce documents for alleged credit card misuse

The worst of the four was Shelling’s accusations against Vidrine. She produced documents that showed Vidrine took his family on a Florida vacation using the school’s credit card. Shelling’s report showed that a total of 37 charges were made between June 23, 2008, and June 30, 2008, totaling over $4,000. The alleged accusations against the other three principals were all referred to the Legislative Auditor for investigation, Vidrine’s card alleged irregularities were not reported.

Superintendent Julian Gray bought Vidrine’s explanation that he attended a school conference and over $4,000 in charges for food, multiple hotel rooms, beach activities, and other incidentals were school related. Gray allowed Vidrine to produce receipts, but Vidrine only had 23 receipts for the 37 charges.

Privately, Vidrine was sent a letter of suspension in 2010, but was reportedly told to “sit on it” after board President Mickey Traweek promised that a deal was in the works. Despite Shelling’s insistence that even the smallest infraction required reprimand, a deal was cut. The result: Morehouse retired, Moore was moved to the central office, and Davis went back to the classroom and later retired. In return, the accusations against Brent Vidrine disappeared. There was no mention of any of the alleged misuse claims in the district’s state audit.

Just over two years later, Vidrine was named superintendent and has since investigated several claims of misuse of school funds by subordinates in his administration.

Since 2009, the board has yet to resolve the matter of the 14 missing receipts or received an acceptable explanation of how one person attending a conference required over $4,000 in expenditures. No action was ever taken against Vidrine for the alleged misuse of the school’s card. However, the Shelling “not one dime” rule was enforced against all others.

According to the unofficial “not one dime” rule, if a single action by an administrator or subordinate occurs, reprimands should follow.

Considering Vidrine’s questionable and unrepentant history with public credit cards, Vidrine should excuse himself from any investigation of any employee and refer all such matters to the appropriate outside agency.