Education

Schools superintendent suspends self and three others over missing school money, person deemed likely 'culprit' says fault was with the school

The same day Monroe County School District Superintendent Mark Porter said he was suspending himself and three others -- the finance chief, a principal and a bookkeeper -- for their roles in money missing from Horace O'Bryant School in Key West, a woman who's been called the likely culprit said she is being unfairly singled out for what she believes was an accounting mistake, not theft.

"Nobody even knows the truth," Tina Godfrey said Tuesday. "I understand I'm going to get blamed for it. I had no help [in my job] and no proper training at all."

Godfrey was hired to run HOB's day-care program for the 2014-15 school year. During that time, $21,731 went missing from the cash-only program. Godfrey said she was hired to run the day care, not to collect money.

"I needed somebody besides myself to collect money and write receipts," she said. "I was only trained for one hour."

The School Board spent about 45 minutes at its meeting Tuesday discussing the HOB case.

Porter, Executive Director of Finance and Performance Jim Drake, HOB Principal Mike Henriquez and Patricia Barber, HOB's bookkeeper, will serve five-day unpaid suspensions by the end of the 2015-16 fiscal year.

By December 2014, three months into her job, Godfrey said she broke down crying asking Henriquez for help with the financial side of the day care but it didn't come.

Henriquez didn't fire her following her year in the job, Godfrey added. "He took me into the office and said he was letting me go because the day-care program did not work out the way he wanted it to."

The Monroe County State Attorney's Office on Tuesday released an investigative report saying it has no evidence to charge Godfrey with a crime. It says evidence is circumstantial but that "of the persons involved, she is the most obvious culprit."

In a report he released Monday night, Porter blames himself for waiting a year before telling the School Board and the State Attorney's Office about the missing cash and says Henriquez failed to follow hiring procedures when choosing Godfrey for the job.

Porter concluded the day-care program was handled so badly by so many, no one person can be pinned as directly responsible, although he, like the State Attorney's Office, calls Godfrey the "most directly involved."

"In the end, the preventable loss of $21,731 from the HOB Daycare Program is deeply troubling in light of past financial problems faced by the Monroe County Schools," Porter wrote. "The disciplinary actions taken in response to this situation should serve as notice to all employees that the Monroe County schools cannot and will not tolerate further actions or inactions with regard to proper execution of fiduciary and ethical responsibilities."

"I do not believe there is anyone currently employed by the Monroe County School District who has personally benefited from the funds missing from the HOB day-care program," he added.

Godfrey, hired Aug. 19, 2014, collected the day-care payments and left the cash in a drawer for the bookkeeper, according to a report from the district's lawyers. But she failed to use a simple collections form, which Barber didn't require, and was allowed to collect payments and take roll at the same time, the attorneys said.

"While the genesis of the problem arose through lack of use of the form by a single person, the fact that the problem went unnoticed and ignored for six months was the result of a complete failure to follow protocols by multiple people at multiple levels," attorneys Dirk Smits and Theron Simmons wrote.

Throughout the investigation, they added, it became apparent that HOB, recently recreated as a K-8 school that absorbed students from the former Glynn Archer Elementary, is a deeply divided campus.

"Until the school becomes a single cohesive unit, we would expect what can best be termed 'responsibility avoidance' to continue," the attorneys wrote. "The fractured nature of the school, together with additional job responsibilities, we believe, led to ignoring what should have been clear warning signs that something was amiss and a failure to follow proper protocols."

The day-care scandal came to light last November, more than a year after accounting flubs were first noticed, when the Keynoter reported it. School Board members learned of the mess from a reporter.

Henriquez said he noticed a decrease in revenue in December 2014 and by January, the attorneys said, revenues were in the negative.

"The principal indicated that situation should not have been possible and that's when an investigation by district finance began in earnest," the attorneys wrote.

State auditors raised the day-care failures in their annual review late last year.

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