More work left to do in Bibb school ethics probe

An investigator will interview more Bibb school officials this week as a state ethics agency wraps up its investigation of whether former school Superintendent Sharon Patterson and two top administrators failed to report employee misconduct.

Gary Walker, director of the Georgia Professional Standards Commission’s ethics division, said the agency had planned to issue its findings this month, but because of the mounting caseload, it now hopes to issue decisions at its commission meeting in April.

“The investigator will complete the case as soon as possible,” Walker said. “I do not know how much info he will get on the trip that will have to be included in the report, or how long the report will be when he finishes.

“Press coverage continues to produce a significant amount of new information that must be reviewed by the investigator. We cannot finalize the cases until the information is reviewed.”

In the mix now is whether a former transportation director and three Bibb County principals should have been reported to the PSC after a local investigation of misconduct. The state oversight agency requires that suspected educator misconduct be reported to their office within 90 days.

Sylvia McGee, Bibb’s acting superintendent and one of the administrators under scrutiny, said she is ready for the case to end, but that the investigation has not affected her ability to lead the school system temporarily.

“I’ve put it in the back of my mind because I’ve been consumed with other things,” McGee said. “When we get through the process, I will be relieved.

“Anytime there is an allegation of ethics (violations), that certainly concerns you.”

McGee plans to return this fall, but she said she has no intention of applying for the vacant superintendent’s job.

This year, Patterson was let out her contract 17 months early. She said it was partly to focus on clearing her name in the investigation and from problems working with some members of the board. She has maintained that she and the other school officials did nothing wrong.

Board President Gary Bechtel, one of the board members who filed the original ethics complaint, said he’s ready for finality so the system can move forward.

“It’s been somewhat distracting,” he said. “But in the midst we have had the (school improvement) grant and budget work getting done.”

The PSC cases involve a former school bus transportation director who had employees doing work at his home, a former Northeast principal investigated for having an affair with a subordinate, and Southwest High’s current principal, who was investigated for allegedly misappropriating funds. Those cases were not initially reported to the PSC.

A former Appling Middle School principal was investigated by Bibb school officials for allegedly choking a student, and that case was reported to the PSC.

Since the original complaint was filed, Southwest principal Tyrone Bacon has also been investigated by the school system’s central office for two other cases of alleged misconduct.

Both of those cases have been reported to the PSC.

Bacon was warned by the system in January that he should not have “furloughed” students in 2008 and 2009, which violated state laws. Failing students were sent home during End-of-Course Tests and not allowed to take the mandatory exams.

Another system investigation, completed this month, found that Bacon charged students who were excessively absent $30 to make up work this school year and then used some of the money to buy food for teachers.

Bacon collected $660 from 22 students who had excessive absences, according to school system documents. Students should not have been charged, school funds should have been turned over to the school bookkeeper, and $193 worth of the money should not have been spent on doughnuts and lunches for teachers, according to a school system letter.

“These actions are in violation of the Bibb County Board of Education’s Internal Accounting Handbook,” according to the system’s investigation letter. Bacon was ordered to repay all 22 students.

The central office also found that $435 was collected from Southwest students to attend a Feb. 11 dance held during the school day. Students were charged $1 to get in.

“Central office administrators were not made aware that funds would be collected from students for a reward activity held during the instructional day,” the investigation letter said. If the dance were used as a reward, “it is questionable why students would be required to pay for a reward they earned.”

As a result of the system’s investigation, Bacon is no longer able to handle school money, but instead must turn over all school funds to the school bookkeeper. The school cannot purchase any items with cash, students can’t be charged for rewards and no funds collected from students can pay for teacher benefits, according to the documents.

Bacon is also required to meet weekly with central office administrators about Southwest’s activities until the end of the school year.

School officials did not renew Bacon’s contract for the fall.

Bacon, who said he is scheduled to be interviewed by the PSC today, declined to comment about the recent system investigation.

To contact writer Julie Hubbard, call 744-4331.