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CMSD workers forced to return pay

 

Sarah Fowler

 

Custodial and maintenance staff with the Columbus Municipal School District will have 28 hours of pay deducted from their next paychecks as reimbursement for pay approved by their supervisors but ruled inappropriate by district officials. The 39 employees will lose approximately $200 to $500, depending on their pay rate. 

 

Multiple sources within the district, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the school board approved the forced reimbursement during executive session of its Monday night meeting. 

 

The reimbursement is related to three separate instances that began in November 2012 during Thanksgiving break. Sources said CMSD assistant superintendent Craig Shannon allowed the workers to take a day off during the holiday break when they ran out of duties to perform within the district. The employees filled out a leave request form and noted they would be absent on "school business." They were reportedly told they had to be on call during their time off. The same situation occurred during the Christmas holidays and during spring break in March. In each case, the employees filled out a leave request form and were told to be on call in case they were needed.  

 

According to the sources, former chief financial officer Kenneth Hughes called a meeting in April with superintendent Dr. Martha Liddell, board attorney David Dunn and Hughes' attorney, Marc Amos, to discuss several red flags Hughes saw in the district's finances. The incidents involving the custodial and maintenance staffs were reportedly one of those issues. Hughes was fired shortly afterward on May 2 for reasons that have not been made public by the district. 

 

During Monday night's executive session, Dunn brought the matter before the board and reportedly told board members that if the money was not returned to the district, the state auditor could potentially hold individual board members accountable for the money.  

 

If board members were forced to pay back the money from their own pockets, former school board member Tommy Prude would be included in the judgment since the instances occurred during his time on the board. Board member Angela Verdell, who replaced Prude in March, might be exempt since she was not on the board when the December and January dockets were approved. Fellow board member Aubra Turner might be exempt because she has continuously voted against approving the docket since December 2012.  

 

The total amount paid to the 39 employees was $10,950. If Prude and current board members Jason Spears, Currie Fisher and Glenn Lautzenhiser were fined individually, each would be responsible for paying $2,738. 

 

In a 3-2 vote, the board passed a resolution to deduct the money from the 39 affected employees' checks. Turner and Verdel voted against the measure and Lautzenhizer, Spears and Fisher voted in favor. 

 

The custodial staff has been drastically reduced since 2010. With a former workforce of 17, there are now just seven employees responsible for maintaining the district's nine campuses. In addition to their custodial duties, they have also been helping maintain the district grounds since March. The district previously had five full-time groundskeepers. Now, it has just one. 

 

In addition to the reduction in personnel in the custodial department, employees also saw a decrease in the number of paid working days, cut from 246 to 236 in 2010. 

 

Liddell declined to comment on the matter, citing it as a personnel issue. Dunn could not be reached for comment.

 

Sarah Fowler covers crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.

 

 

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