Tulsa School Receive Lesson In Ethics
“I will tell you in the last month and a half as part of this investigation, we have learned there are many individuals throughout this organization who have rented our facilities for personal gain,” said Associate Superintendent for Secondary Schools Kevin Burr, who conducted the meeting. “That money belongs to the kids of Tulsa Public Schools.”
Burr’s comments were heard on an audio tape of the meeting obtained by the Tulsa World on Monday.
Burr also said during the meeting, “We’ve had several high-profile situations over the course of the last couple years, and we do have an investigation into the Athletic Department that is ongoing, that has not stopped and will continue until it’s complete as can be.”
The meeting occurred on the same day it was announced that termination proceedings had been started against the district’s athletic director, Stephanie Spring. She has been on suspension since November, when the entire leadership of the Athletic Department became embroiled in scandal over a possible violation of the Oklahoma Computer Crimes Act.
Superintendent Keith Ballard would not confirm whether the announcement about Spring’s future was related to the ethics meeting.
“Ethics training is important, and we have ethics training on a regular basis,” he said.
Spring’s name was not mentioned in the meeting.
In late July, the Tulsa Public Schools Campus Police Department reported a possible violation of the Oklahoma Computer Crimes Act after concerns arose during preparation for a due-process hearing for Cheryl Murphy, who had been suspended from her duties as Spring’s secretary.
During an interview with an attorney for the school district, Spring and Assistant Athletic Directors Latricia Pruitt and Jon Wheeler reportedly disclosed that they had accessed Murphy’s personal emails – not her business account – “using a password they had located within Ms. Murphy’s vacated office.” Pruitt was suspended but has since been reinstated. Termination proceedings against Wheeler are pending.
To date, no criminal charges have been filed in the case. By law, public entities don’t have to disclose matters involving personnel issues until final disciplinary action is taken.
Also at Wednesday’s ethics meeting was Campus Police Chief Gary Rudick, who spoke for five minutes about a sheet given to coaches that had information on the Oklahoma statutes that define embezzlement and public finance. Two other sheets were distributed that covered ethics and the use of facilities, equipment and resources.
Rudick urged coaches to report any violations they have committed or they know have occurred in order to “minimize consequences and maximize opportunities to survive it.”
“Ignorance of the law is no excuse,” Rudick said during the meeting.
Criminal prosecution was mentioned as a possibility.
Burr said during the meeting that “we will deal with things as severely as we need to.”
Several longtime coaches, who asked not to be identified, described the tone of the meeting as intimidating.
Ballard said he did not attend the meeting. When offered specific details of what was said, he declined to comment.
During the meeting, Burr said the majority of people and schools are ethical. He spoke for about 30 minutes and then took questions from coaches for more than 15 minutes.
“This is an important day in the history of Tulsa Public Schools,” Burr said in his introduction. “Part of my responsibility to do as your leader is to lead even in times of difficulty. And this is a time of difficulty for our district in terms of athletics, because we’ve had several things happen in the course of the last 2 1/2 to three years that cause me great concern.”
Burr said the school district encourages that facilities be rented. Tulsa Public Schools facilities are rented by athletic and nonathletic groups.
Also covered in the meeting was the “new normal” – a policy that says facilities can be rented by outside groups only through Facilities Utilization Specialist Linda Caine’s office and that all stipends can be paid to TPS employees only through Caine’s office.
Employees also will no longer be able to be paid by outside entities who rent school district facilities.
“What the district used to do previous to 4 o’clock today no longer matters,” Burr said. “So none of you can use the phrase, ’This is what we used to do, and this is what we’ve always done.’ “