Principal and former coach accused of bilking cheerleader funds
November 16, 2009
By KAREN VELIE
Parents are accusing the principal of Atascadero High School and a former cheerleading coach of misappropriating monies specified for cheerleader uniforms, camp and supplies for the school’s cheerleading squads.
The accusations include misappropriation of funds, abuse of power and intimidation, as well as punishing the cheerleaders for the financial mess that occurred under the school’s watch.
The parents say Atascadero Principal EJ Rossi refused to refund payments made for items the students never received, transferred the students’ previously individual recorded cheerleader accounts into a general unrestricted student body account, refused to allow parents to inspect the books, and covered up alleged misdeeds in order to protect the school’s reputation.
When asked about it, Rossi rejected the parents’ complaints.
“We need to clear up the parents’ misconceptions,” Rossi said. “There are no problems with the cheer accounts. We had to cut their season in half because we can’t afford the coach’s $2,000 stipend (separate from cheerleading funds).”
The cheerleading squads were allowed to perform for the football season, but won’t cheer on the school’s other team for the rest of the school year, the principal said.
Even though the 50 varsity and junior varsity cheerleaders spent months fundraising to help reduce the approximately $1,000 for the cost of their uniforms, supplies, camp, and fees, the cheerleaders were the only teams that received massive cuts this year.
Rossi canceled half of the cheerleaders’ season, prohibited at the beginning of school the cheerleaders from wearing their uniforms to school, canceled competitions, confiscated some of their equipment, and downgraded the team from an athletic organization to a club.
These actions have left the parents hopping mad.
“I think it is ridiculous for these girls to put out all this hard work then half way through they cancel the season,” said a parent who asked to be unnamed to protect her daughter’s chance to make the team next year. ”It wouldn’t happen to the football team.”
Parents informed Rossi more than a year ago that they had discovered that former Atascadero High cheerleading coach Tori Loney had overcharged for uniforms and supplies and that they believed she was misappropriating donations.
“I think there was between $5,000 to $10,000 in the fund-raising monies missing last year,” a parent said. “And we were triple charged for things.”
Following their meeting with the principal, parents said Loney told students, “Your parents are causing too much trouble. If they don’t quit (complaining), you won’t be on the team next year.”
“He did not deny that the girls were being overcharged,” a parent said. “He said Loney wasn’t supposed to be handling the money, but not to worry, that he was taking care of everything. He refused to let us see the books.”
Rossi countered those accusation by saying the squads’ financial books were audited and that no problems were discovered in the cheerleading account.
However, district officials said they are working to clear up a number of bookkeeping issues created by Loney.
“There was a bookkeeping nightmare we had to deal with,” said Katie Horton, executive assistant to the superintendent of Atascadero schools. “We have to clean up some of the messes that were left. We don’t run school events so sloppily.”
CalCoastNews researched the cost of one of the required items, a silver-hair bow decorated with six small plastic rhinestones. Though the students were charged $15 per bow, the cost of the bow including shipping, tax, and rhinestones is currently $6.25.
Loney has denied allegations that she mishandled monies.
“I couldn’t imagine there is money missing,” Loney said. “I gave Rossi the printouts for every girl.”
Another bone of contention centers around what happened to donations for spa cards. Cheerleaders solicited donations for vouchers to be used at local spas with a portion of the monies to be used to fund the teams’ cheerleading activities.
The cards were to be delivered the week before Mother’s Day this year. However, the cards were not purchased and the funds are unaccounted for, parents maintain.
“There were separate reports to show where the spa cards go,” Loney said. “As the school switched coaches, the money went to (current cheer coach Irene) McDaniel.”
Loney added that the funds for the spa cards were sent to McDaniel as the new cheerleading coach.
For her part, McDaniel, who took over the coaching three months after Mother’s Day in August, could not be reached for comment about the parents’ complaints.
In the past, most parents paid for cheerleading expenses up front. In some instances those cheerleaders who performed fund-raising activities, were refunded some or all of their charges.
Each girl was provided a cheerleading account record that listed purchases, payments, and fundraising monies. If they raised more than the current season’s expenses, they could use the overflow to cover their next season’s expenses or purchase extras such as cheer pajamas.
Parents have asked Rossi to refund some monies, such as the $25 paid to cover the required makeup kit they never received. While he paid a few parents back, he has refused to reimburse the majority of parents.
In addition, parents question his decision to move monies donated to their children, such as a grandparent donating $200 to cover part of her granddaughter’s uniform cost, to a general student account to pay for other school needs.
Rossi told CalcoastNews that he would not be refunding any more monies to parents or donors.
“I’ve spoken to parents about what they were told and that this is how we are doing it now,” Rossi said. “To the best of our records, everything has been rectified.”
When asked about why some parents have not been reimbursed for the makeup kits, Rossi replied, “I have no answer to that.”
However, parents and former coach Loney question the legality of not returning payments for items that were not provided.
“It is illegal not to give money back,” said Loney, who added that as a former coach she knew the rules.
“You can’t refund donation money back to the girls, but up to the amount they raised should be given back. Because of Associated Student Body rules, it has to be refunded.”
The parents are also battling with Rossi over varsity cheer boxes (boxes the cheerleaders stand on during football games). Almost a dozen parents built their daughters’ wooden boxes so that the girls could retain them as souvenirs.
But the girls have been informed the boxes now belong to Atascadero High School, parents said.
“Rossi said that because the boxes are on school grounds, they are property of the school,” a parent said.
Rossi contended that, to his knowledge, none of the parents made the boxes and that they are school property.
But Rossi’s contentions haven’t satisfied the angry parents.
“I am angry that they not only stole from my daughter but also from her grandparents and the community members (who) supported her,” one outraged father said. “What kind of people steal from children?”