Paintsville BOE faces criticism

Steve Belcher, right, a parent and city resident, voices concerns about fund mismanagement and faculty conduct to the Paintsville Independent Schools Board of Education Monday at its regular meeting

The Paintsville Independent Schools Board of Education heard complaints alleging staff misconduct and the mismanagement of funds from a soccer fundraiser.

After the meeting, a verbal altercation between two individuals who had been in attendance at the meeting ensued outside of the district’s administrative building, leading to a physical altercation that took place on Second Street.

Steve Belcher, the city resident who attended the meeting and voiced his concerns, said he had been advised by “several people” that money that was raised for the girl’s soccer team in 2017 had been taken out of the district’s activities fund and was not used for its intended purpose. He did not go into detail as to what the mismanagement was.

“I was told by numerous people that this is missing,” Belcher said. “I was shown where we had this money and then it was taken out of an account, that, to my knowledge, we raised it, it was ours. Evidently, other people didn’t see it that way.”

Belcher said that, when Coy Sammons was the superintendent in the district, parents of students on the team were instructed to turn in uniforms that they had purchased.

“I brought him an empty box and said, ‘There’s the ones you paid for,’” Belcher said.

According to Paintsville Superintendent David Gibson, transfers from one activity fund to another are possible.

Belcher alleged that one of the events of mismanagement occurred several years ago, but the incident involving the soccer team’s funds happened as recently as 2017. Gibson and board member Joe Porter said it would be difficult to track down the ledger for the events several years ago, but the use of the money donated for the soccer team in 2017 should be accessible, and Gibson said the board would look into the allegations.

“Each coach is supposed to do a fundraiser,” Gibson said. “I will tell you, we’ve done some massive cleanup on that since I’ve been here. I can’t tell you exactly what happened there, because it was before I got here, but I can tell you we’ll look into it and you’re more than welcome to come in here and sit down with me and we’ll go through it and I know (Paintsville High School Principal Tiffany Austin) will do whatever she can to help you.”

“I saw some numbers, which I don’t know how complete it was, which to me it’s like reading Egyptian anyway,” Belcher said. “There were a lot of things that, surely to God, they can’t be that far off … we do have consistent audits, I assume.”

Gibson said that the board’s audits have “come back clean,” and been performed each year as required, but that doesn’t mean that something didn’t get missed.

Porter asked Belcher if there were financial statements indicating these funds had been deposited into the activity fund, and that there should be a general ledger that indicates how much money was spent from the account and for what purpose.

“They do have some financial information that’s saying, hey, we put this money in there, you have a deposit or a receipt or something, right,” Porter asked Belcher, who said that he had seen these financial records, but did not specify what they were. “So, what we need to do is, before they start, they need those receipts, see what was placed in that account and what went out of that account. It’s like a general ledger and she should have activity for the last three or four years. She should have credits and debits and, you know, if you have one for $550, she should have $550, then she has to account for what went out on the other side. $275, what was it for?”

Gibson then said that, at the request of Austin, he and she had begun a process of auditing Site-Based Decision Making Council policies and procedures, which he described as a “mess.”

“We’ve got some issues we need to clean up,” Gibson said.

Belcher then asked about conduct.

“How about the conduct?” Belcher asked. “Not just students, everybody.”

Gibson said that Belcher was right in saying that student, teacher and faculty conduct should be a focus of the board’s revisions to the district’s policies and procedures.

“Everybody, you’re 100 percent right,” Gibson said. “The law changed, I believe, Steve, and don’t hold me to this, around 2009, where each district has to do a student code of conduct bi-annually, with a set of elections to elect students, parents, things of that nature. To my knowledge, I don’t think we’ve ever done that here … there’s a lot of things that we have not done annually that’s required by statutes, not board policies, but statutes set down by the state of Kentucky. I can’t find it, number one, and number two, I don’t think we’ve done it. So, those are the types of things, when you say you’re feeling angst about some of this stuff, I can promise you, it’s kept me up at night.”

Belcher said the district had changed since he was in school, and he expressed his disapproval of the way the school was functioning. Board member Eddie Hazelett said the board described the policies as “antiquated.”

“I came up with much better adjectives,” Belcher said. “Piss poor would be right at the top of my list.”

Belcher then said he wanted to address the senior members of the board.

“You just touched on something, which they should be able to agree with me, the guys that have been here for 20 years. It’s changed a bit, hasn’t it, from what we used to be and I don’t mean in a good way,” Belcher said. Gibson agreed. “See, when we were in school, I have no problem with people coming from Floyd County, I don’t want anyone to even think that, because when I was in school, we had them coming from everywhere because of the academics,” Belcher continued. “Now, they’re coming here, it appears the motives may be whatever they may be, but the academics, something’s not meshing and something does not seem right.”

Belcher expressed dissatisfaction with the current state of the school district and losing formerly loyal attendees to the school.

“That’s my biggest thing, my kids are third-generation tigers,” Belcher said. “I don’t get how we’re losing … people who were brought up in the system are leaving us and that I don’t get either. That should never be happening.”

Gibson said that dwindling attendance was one aspect of the issue with academics and the board had their “work cut out for them,” and detailed that the board had a collection of policies, but did not have procedures to implement them, and that the “biggest part” of his first seven months with the district was spent developing these procedures, which Gibson said were called “green sheets,” and giving job descriptions to positions within the district, including principals.

“Paintsville’s been around 125 years,” Gibson said. “We were one of 10 school systems, out of 173 school systems, that didn’t have these. We were a walking lawsuit.”

Belcher said the district “still might be.”

Gibson agreed, and then said the board is planning training for coaches and faculty that will instruct them as far as the guidelines for handling money and school funds.

“The reason I’m telling you this is, you’re right. You’re 100 percent right,” Gibson said to Belcher. “We’ve got issues, but I don’t want you to sit there and think we’re not trying to address them, but it’s slow and it’s painful.”

Belcher said his main concern is with sports coaching conduct.

“My main concern is conduct, not only from the student body, but what we expect from, well, I’m not going to single out teachers because it’s the coaches, those are the ones that get the most animated,” Belcher said. “I’ve personally seen, on both sides of it, I don’t see how either was back on the field and/or court. How are you going to address that, from here on out.”

Austin said that she and the board had been working on a student athlete handbook that would govern both coaches and players.

“That rules out cussing at the players, then,” said Justin Lewandoski, a former city councilman and city resident who was present at the meeting.

Belcher then asked the board whether they had any guidelines in their handbooks that covered domestic violence or dating violence, to which Austin and Gibson responded by saying that perhaps that was something that should be covered in their code of conduct, and that they had begun a close relationship with the district’s court designated worker.

“If it happens at school, it’s ours,” Austin said.

Belcher said the school should handle those situations, regardless of where they happen, if they involve staff or students.

“We need to get back up to where we were,” Belcher said. “Because we’re not even remotely there.”

Gibson said that the board was glad to hear public comments and appreciated Belcher’s presence.

“We hear you, we hear the community, and we appreciate that you’re here tonight fighting for what Paintsville should stand for,” Gibson said. “We believe it, we believe exactly what you’re saying and I don’t think there’s any reason we can’t get back to that spot … it doesn’t happen over night but it’s going to happen.”

Belcher said he had other concerns about the goings-on of the district, but that he would save those for future meetings, which he said he would be attending from then on.

When the board entered a closed executive session, Lewandoski and another attendee of the meeting, identified by Paintsville Police Department Captain Jonathan Holbrook as Bart Ward, engaged in a heated discussion on the premises of the board office, before walking across Second Street.

Once across the street and off of school property, the confrontation became physical. According to Holbrook, Lewandoski later made a statement to the effect that Ward threw the first punch and he defended himself. Ward did not give a statement, according to Holbrook, and neither party pressed charges in the matter.

According to Gibson, to his knowledge, the altercation was not related to the school district’s, or the board’s business.

According to Lewandoski, he has been barred from school property and reiterated that he acted in self-defense.

Police added that they believe the altercation stemmed from social media posts made by Lewandoski prior to the meeting.

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