May 17, 2013 12:08:40 PM
Sarah Fowler - [email protected]
Nine months after being indicted by the U.S. Attorney's Office on fraud charges relating to a nationwide testing scam, a teacher is still on paid leave with the Columbus Municipal School District.
Darcel Gardner was placed on paid leave in September after she was indicted on four counts of fraud by the U.S. Attorney's Office out of the western district of Tennessee. She is accused of paying someone to take her Praxis biology test in 2009 to gain her teacher certification.
The indictment claims Gardner paid Clarence Mumford Sr. of Memphis $1,000 to hire someone to take her exam on April 25, 2009. Gardner allegedly mailed Mumford her driver's license and money on April 22, 2009.
She and 13 others were arraigned on the charges on Sept.19, 2012, in Memphis.
Court record shows that Gardner pleaded "not guilty" to the charges on Sept. 28, 2012. Her trial date has since been delayed five times with her attorney requesting continuances on two of those occasions. Currently, Gardner faces an Oct. 17 court date in Memphis.
Gardner has been employed with the CMSD since January 2011 as a special education teacher at Columbus High School. Her Facebook page still lists CMSD as her employer. She earned her master's degree in 2009 and is currently pursuing her Ph.D.
Of the 190 school days for the 2012-2013 school year to date, Gardner has been on paid leave for 159 school days and counting.
While Gardner maintained her employment, other teachers who have been involved in the scam were fired immediately after their arrests. Those who took a plea bargain entered into an agreement where they would give up their teaching license for a lesser sentence.
When reached for comment regarding asking why Gardner was still on paid leave with the district, a school district official declined comment, saying the matter was a personnel issue and no further information would be provided.
CMSD would not release the amount of Gardner's pay, but a teacher with her experience would typically earn $35,930 annually. Earlier this week, when questioned by a school board member about whether the district had enough money to pay its bills for the month, acting CFO Felicia Elmore said she did not know the answer to that question. In February, CMSD Superintendent Dr. Martha Liddell proposed that all non-essential spending in the district be suspended.
Prosecutors say the Praxis scheme began in 1995 when Mumford began fraudulently hiring people to take educational exams for those hoping to become teachers.
According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, "the original indictment in the case, filed in July 2012, charged Mumford Sr. with orchestrating a scheme that began as early as 1995 to pay test-takers to take teacher certification examinations on behalf of teachers and hopeful teachers."
Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.