By Madelynn Coldiron
There’s a moment that stands out for Dayton Independent Schools Superintendent Jay Brewer when he recalls the turmoil following the discovery – with attendant publicity – that his predecessor had misappropriated hundreds of thousands of district dollars. Visiting a fifth-grade classroom, he sat down to observe and was asked by a student who apparently knew only his title:
“Why did you steal all that money?”
Photo: Dayton Independent Schools Superintendent Jay Brewer shares how his district recovered following the misdeeds of its previous leader.
Brewer outlined the saga of his early days as Dayton’s chief, how he came to realize the extent of the financial misdeeds and what followed in a clinic session at KSBA’s annual conference. His emphasis was on lessons learned, but the drama of the events shared equal billing.
Former superintendent Gary Rye will be sentenced in April after pleading guilty in federal court to embezzling $193,000 in benefits to which he was not entitled. He and the district’s private accounting firm also will make reparations totaling more than a half-million dollars.
The theft came to light when Brewer began asking questions about those payments to Rye. He delved deeper, he said, building a team with the board, staff and attorney to piece together what happened.
“That’s where it really picked up speed,” Brewer said. Federal investigators and the state auditor’s office were notified, as was the state education department.
In terms of lessons to be passed along to superintendents, Brewer said, “Remember why you are here – and that’s for the kids, it isn’t for the money.”
He and Phil Eason, a former superintendent who was his executive coach during this time, listed other lessons learned from the experience, for both boards and superintendents:
• Leadership courses teach skills, not character.
• Superintendents shouldn’t dwell on their successes. “Hubris does set in,” Eason warned.
• Superintendents should have strong systems in place that will protect both the superintendent and the board when he or she leaves. As stewards of the district, boards should work with the superintendent to put controls in place. In Dayton’s case, Eason said, “the board of education deserves no blame” because the superintendent had put no processes in place.
• Separate the superintendent and finance officer from the board’s certified public accounting firm; designate one board member to meet with the firm to review audit findings and report back to the board.
• Boards should have a code of ethics.