Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Audit of Teachers Aid Program Finds Fraud; Tax Dollars Funded Nepotism, Abuse

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Audit of Teachers Aid Program Finds Fraud; Tax Dollars Funded Nepotism, Abuse

Article excerpt

Byline: BRANDON LARRABEE

ATLANTA - Fraud, waste and rampant nepotism marred the first two years of a program for coaching teachers championed by Gov. Sonny Perdue, according to a scathing report from state auditors that calls for a criminal investigation.

The audit blasted the former state officials who oversaw the program and the regional agency that ran it, saying administrators steered business and taxpayer dollars to relatives.

"A review of the expenditures of the Academic Coach Program for FY 2006 and 2007 indicated that a high percentage of payments were directed toward various related parties," the report said. "Had appropriate procurement policies been followed, it does not appear that many of these parties would have received payments for services."

Perdue introduced the academic coach program in 2005 as a way of providing extra pay to talented teachers who agreed to mentor colleagues in struggling school districts. But none of the $1.2 million set aside by the General Assembly for the program's first two years were used for salary supplements, the audit found.

"That's certainly frustrating for the governor," press secretary Bert Brantley said of the report.

Instead, a state Department of Education employee and her family took in more than $170,000 from the program, the audit found, much of it through improper reimbursements or invoices. The employee also asked other employees to do unnecessary work that was later used in her dissertation about the program.

Mike Walker, the director of the Oconee Regional Education Service Agency in Tennille, about 65 miles southwest of Augusta in Washington County, was awarded a contract to run the program. He allegedly steered $53,500 to a company listing his wife as chief executive officer in filings with the secretary of state's office. Walker is also listed as chief financial officer of the company, the report said.

Walker did not return calls to his office seeking comment on the report. …

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