Principal agrees to pay back misappropriated monies
December 7, 2009
By KAREN VELIE
Atascadero High School Principal EJ Rossi agreed to return $32,000 to the San Ardo School District (SASD) bringing to the forefront questions of why officials in Atascadero hired Rossi knowing he was accused of misappropriating school funds.
Last month, Rossi signed a settlement and release agreement to avoid legal action. Even though he did not admit to any wrong doing, he agreed to pay the San Ardo School District $32,000 of the alleged $54,000 in missing monies, according to the settlement.
“Because of the state’s financial situation, those funds could have been used for student activities, teacher’s salaries, or even painting the school,” said current SASD Superintendent Carlos Vega.
In the summer of 2007, shortly after Rossi left his position as superintendent of the SASD to serve as the assistant principal of Atascadero High School, an audit uncovered a mountain of financial discrepancies.
According to the June 2007 audit, 19 financial irregularities were unveiled that involved Rossi and the San Ardo School District’s former business manager Julie Trescony (now Julie Diggs). Sources contend Rossi and Trescony had a cozy personal and professional relationship that facilitated the alleged misappropriation of school funds.
The audit found that Rossi and Trescony had overridden internal controls that should have required purchase invoices, stopped duplicate payments and prohibited non-school related expenditures.
Both Rossi and Trescony carried two school credit cards each with limits of between $45,000 and $75,000 per card. According to school credit card records, Rossi and Trescony purchased personal items, charged for gas even though they were reimbursed for mileage and returned items charged to the cards.
In addition, the audit concludes that Rossi and Trescony approved pay overages “through possible collusion.”
“The previous superintendent (Rossi) was paid $109,148 during the fiscal year, but his contract amount was $88,000… In addition, the business manager (Trescony) calculated, approved and paid herself $1,454 for a perceived underpayment of wages throughout the year even though she was paid more than her contract amount.”
Parents at both Atascadero High School and San Ardo School have accused Rossi of misappropriating fundraising monies slated to support student activities.
Parents of Atascadero High School cheerleaders say 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 and refused to account for missing fundraising monies.
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 families.
Rossi told CalCoastNews that he would not be refunding any more monies to parents.
According to sources in San Ardo, the $54,000 found in the audit report does not include fundraising monies Rossi was entrusted to handle that are allegedly missing.
One parent, who has asked to remain unnamed to protect themselves against future retaliation, said that of $433 a parent raised selling tamales, only $120 was deposited into the Associated Student Body (ASB) account.”
According to the audit, the ASB account, while under the supervision of Rossi and Trescony, was not properly monitored and that student funds were used to cover general school expenses.
The auditor recommends that in the future, “ASB should have its own separate account for ASB activities only. General fund transactions should never be paid from ASB funds or from a bank account that is not on the books. Processing transactions outside the accounting system offers easy opportunity for fraud, abuse, and misappropriation of cash.”
District officials responded to the recommendation: “The superintendent and business manager terminated employment with the district in July 2007 and were replaced by the current superintendent and business manager. Current administration has already determined that a separate cash account will be used for ASB activities.”
After a group of outraged San Ardo parents learned that Rossi was up for the principal position in Atascadero, one parent mailed copies of the audit report to Atascadero Unified School District board members and hand delivered copies to Superintendent John Rogers and former Atascadero High School Principal Kim Spinks.
Rogers, Spinks, and Rossi did not return requests for comment.
When asked if he forewarned Atascadero Unified School District officials of the alleged financial discrepancies, current SASD Superintendent Carlos Vega said he called the board members to help explain the audit prior to their vote to promote Rossi to the Atascadero High School principal position.
However, no one from the board returned Vega’s call. Spinks called as part of the background check.
“She (Spinks) said she got a copy of the audit but it didn’t mention Rossi by name,” Vega said. “I said you know full well who that is. It’s as if you want to stick your head in the sand.”
In 2008, Rossi was promoted to principal of Atascadero High and Spinks became the district’s director of human resources.
After Trescony terminated her employment with SASD, she was hired as the business manager of San Lucas School District, also in Monterey County. When asked why the district hired a business manager who had been accused of misappropriating funds, San Lucas School District Superintendent Catherine Reimer said that the Monterey District Attorney’s office had cleared Trescony of any criminal wrongdoing.
However, Monterey County Assistant District Attorney Stephanie Husley said that though they did not have sufficient evidence to prove criminal acts without reasonable doubt, they did not conclude that there had been no criminal wrongdoing and had suggested that the district pursue civil action.