The AJC is reporting today that DeKalb County is firing two principals and demoting two other officials after an internal investigation found school funds were used to purchase thousands of dollars worth of books that school administrators had written.
I am delighted to point out the the investigation into the book sales followed an investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. (This is for all those folks on the blog who continue to ignore the AJC’s watchdog role efforts.)
I think the public is getting fed up with schools asking for money while at the same time doing very little to ensure that money is well spent. I also question how DeKalb could allow such purchases with no oversight.
Every year, thousands of educators publish books. Thousands more would publish books if assured they could sell hundreds of copies to their own school systems.
DeKalb superintendent Ramona Tyson deserves credit for acting on this issue once the AJC exposed it. But every system in the state ought to be examining whether it is also buying books from its staff members without due consideration of whether the books are necessary and legitimate.
All told, the school system found three educators-turned-authors raked in a total of almost $100,000 in sales to district schools. One principal used her school’s funds to buy more than $11,000 worth of copies of her own book.
Interim Superintendent Ramona Tyson said the investigation uncovered a misuse of school funds that was “alarming,” “disturbing” and “unethical.”
In addition to the firings and demotions, Tyson outlined policy recommendations to the school board so the problem won’t happen again.
The AJC first wrote about the bulk book purchases on July 25, when it reported Assistant Superintendent Ralph Simpson had sold more than $15,000 in books to the district.
Through further investigation, the AJC recently found two more school officials had done the same thing. As the AJC was investigating those cases, Tyson took action.
“As the information started unfolding and the dollar amounts started to appear, for me, it was disappointing,” Tyson said in an interview Thursday.
In each case, the school official wrote books — one of them wrote three — and got schools’ funds for bulk purchases of their books, turning public money into personal profit.
Tyson said two sisters, both of them principals, are losing their jobs, while two others are being demoted to assistant principal positions. Both are on paid leave and are entitled to a tribunal hearing that could uphold or reverse the terminations.
She credited the AJC with bringing the purchases to light.
“Because of your work to bring it to the district, it has placed me in a position to do the best thing and the right thing for the district to address it,” Tyson said.
District officials said those punished include:
● Yvonne Sanders-Butler, a “principal on assignment” filling in for schools with principal vacancies. She is being terminated from her $105,615 annual salary position. Between 2002 and 2009, she sold $63,184 worth of copies of three health and nutrition books she has written — $11,494 of which she authorized herself while serving as principal at Browns Mill Elementary School.
● Sanders-Butler’s sister, Rainbow Elementary School Principal Annette S. Roberts. She also is being fired because she refused a demotion to assistant principal. She purchased $14,184 worth of copies of her sister’s books for Rainbow.
● Simpson and Miller Grove High School Principal Selina Carol Thedford. They were demoted to assistant principals and had their salaries cut. Simpson wrote an autobiography, titled “From Remedial To Remarkable.” He sold $15,260 worth of copies to six DeKalb schools. Thedford purchased $9,680 worth.
The district cut Simpson’s salary from $115,405 to $89,599, and Thedford’s from $105,615 to $93,168, district Chief of Staff Alice Thompson said.
Tyson said Simpson agreed to pay back $11,800 of his book sales revenue.
“Dr. Simpson … has owned the responsibility and the importance of assuring that the taxpayer dollars come back to the district,” Tyson said. “I accept what he has offered.”
● Former Assistant Superintendent Lonnie Edwards, who wrote “A Teacher’s Touch: Reaching Beyond Boundaries,” about mentoring a disabled student. He sold $12,745 worth of copies to the district while employed there. He also sold $3,424 worth of copies after he left. Edwards now works as the superintendent of the school system in Jackson, Miss.
Thedford and Simpson could not be reached for comment. Edwards declined to comment.
Sanders-Butler, reached by phone on Friday afternoon, said the district’s chief financial officer, Marcus Turk, approached her in 2007 about the book sales. He told her that “it didn’t look right,” but the district did not pursue it, according to Sanders-Butler.
“It stopped right there,” she said.
Though she acknowledged the sales, including the ones for her own school, Sanders-Butler said she did not do so to get rich. She said she sold her health books to improve student nutrition and to fight childhood obesity.
She added that she did not solicit sales and that principals came to her because they were trying to adopt wellness programs.
She said she was stunned officials asked her this week to resign.
“I said, ‘What? Are you crazy?’ ” she said. “So I said, ‘Well, if you’ve got something on me, fire me.’ … I’m not worried because I know I’ll be vindicated.”
Her sister, Roberts, acknowledged buying Sanders-Butler’s books but said she was unfairly targeted because the two are related. She questioned why other principals who purchased books are not getting demoted or fired as well.
“There are other people who made just as many purchases as I made,” Roberts said. “My thing is, I didn’t do anything any different from anybody else.”
Roberts added that it was common knowledge throughout the school district that schools were buying her sister’s book and believes the school district is taking action now only because the purchases have attracted media attention.
“If somebody said this is not allowable, I would never have done it,” Roberts said. “I don’t care if it was my sister.”
She also said she did not know she was being terminated, and that school officials did not tell her she would be fired if she refused to be demoted.