Documents, receipts indicate superintendent took vacation on taxpayer dollars

MCCRACKEN COUNTY, KY — After weeks of investigations and charges involving employees of a local school district, a letter arrived in the mail.

“Rumors that districts funds were used for a vehicle and its gas, used to pay for condo, funds used to pay for meals for he and his wife so that’s what I went over to look at,” Butch Bradley said. He is the attorney for the McCracken County School District.

He got an anonymous letter a week after McCracken County Sheriff’s Department held a news conference about the investigations. But he wasn’t the only one. The McCracken County Sheriff’s Department, Kentucky State Police, and WPSD all got a similar letter or email.

 

Bradley sent the letter he received to the McCracken County Board of Education and the man in question, Superintendent Brian Harper. “The board chair said ‘See if there is anything to it,’ and that’s what all the other board members said, ‘Hey see if there is anything to this,'” Bradley said. “And I did, and it didn’t take long for me to do it, because I knew exactly what I was looking for. I came in the next morning to the central office and asked to see the documents.”

Bradley got those documents from Johnna DeJarnett. She’s an assistant superintendent and director of finance. She said she didn’t do the investigation because Harper was her boss. “So, that would be uncomfortable, to have to investigate your boss,” DeJarnett said.

“I can tell you, in Mr. Harper’s defense, I was surprised,” Bradley said. “I though this would just be a waste of time. I ran over to the central office and got the credit cards, and you know what I found. You see the documents.”

Before Bradley launched his investigation, we had been probing in to the letters allegations for more than a week.

Harper’s school district car

Through a public records request, we were able to find the paper trail. Superintendent Brian Harper requested five vacations days. He even told the board he would be in Florida with the baseball team — signing an authorization form saying how much this trip was going to cost, then submitting a requisition for the district to pay for this trip. He signed it himself,  and there are receipts that we obtained through our open records request.

Harper had the trip to Florida booked on Oct. 6, 2017, and paid a $350 deposit with the school credit card. He’d been superintendent for about three months. The balance was paid in a later charge and the resort received a school check before Harper even left on the trip.

He submitted and approved all the school paperwork for the reservations and submitted and approved his own time off request, called non-contract days and — on two different documents — referred to the trip “as traveling on behalf of the school teams.”

Harper was at the Destin West Vacations hotel in Florida from March 31 to April 7, 2018. The school district paid $1858.50 for a gulf-front condo for two, plus about $150 for gas to get there and back in an SUV owned by the school district. Harper’s contract said he was only to use the SUV on school business. If you’re on vacation, that’s not possible. The same is true for the lodging and any expenses on that trip.

DeJarnett said they have checks and balances in place, but that the person who approves vacation and the person who approves purchases wouldn’t cross paths. “No, that’s a different function. That’s more of the payroll side of the finance office, and the others things are the accounts payable side, so those are different people,” DeJarnett said.

She said the school board would be the people who would see both the superintendent’s days off and his expenses, which are shown in something called the orders of the treasurer. “I don’t know if they’d be able to tell that specifically in viewing the orders of the treasurer because it’s such a big document and they may not be familiar with all the codes,” DeJarnett said.

Board of Education Chairman Steve Shelby compared all this to a natural disaster. “I mean, this is like a tornado that hit. We did not know about some of the things previously until it happened. Bang!” he said. “I get calls from channel 6 asking me a question that I just had a teacher texting me about that I didn’t know.”

Shelby won’t say much because of the ongoing criminal investigation that KSP has opened using the same documents we’ve gotten, but Bradley said he presented his investigation to the board and to Harper recently — before Harper resigned on March 9.

As for what comes next, time will tell, because Shelby will not. “I am sure that any incident where there may have been some misappropriation that, that will be looked at thoroughly. And how it will be done, I don’t have privilege to that right now. We haven’t had a board meeting,” he said.

As for Harper, the phone number we have for him has been disconnected, and we could not reach him for comment about this paper trail.

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