- Last Updated on Wednesday, 23 March 2011 14:40
- Published on Wednesday, 23 March 2011 14:40
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It takes a special person to run for public office. First of all, you must have the passion to serve and you must be in tune with the community’s vision. You also really should have an outgoing personality, as representing the voting public demands a lot of public interaction. And you should hold strong ethics and the ability to work with others.
But every once in a while someone runs for office with a determined attitude to put things right, to effect positive change — to re-write a locality’s future. Such was the case when one week before the 2008 May elections for Colonial Beach School Board, Tim Trivett decided to throw his hat into the ring and run for office.
“I never had an interest to serve on this board,” Trivett said. What prompted placing his decision to run as a write-in candidate was a realization he had that “enough was enough,” Trivett said.
From 2002 through 2008, under then-Superintendent Alice Howard’s tenure, the Colonial Beach school system had come in over budget every year to the cumulative tune of approximately $600,000. Trivett was not OK with this apparent disregard of control of school finances and the lack of information provided in response to his repeated requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act. Trivett was also not OK with many personnel decisions during the Howard years, which included a very public firing of a highly respected principal, Suzanne Tolson, among others.
To Trivett’s surprise, his one-week write-in campaign netted him a seat on the school board and the honor of having captured the most votes for the election. Two other candidates for change, Mike Looney and Anne Congdon, were also voted in, giving the Colonial Beach School Board an entirely new cast. Trivett, Looney and Congdon took their seats in June 2008 and elected Trivett to serve as chairman.
In August 2008 Alice Howard retired. Barbara Worrell, who was the Director of Finance, became acting school superintendent while the board, under Trivett’s leadership, searched for a replacement. The board agreed to hire Robert Luttrell as an interim school superintendent in October of 2008, to give the board ample time to find and hire a new superintendent.
As chairman, one of Trivett’s duties was to sign checks for the school. Worrell would prepare the checks and present them to Trivett for signature. In early May of 2009 while signing checks, Trivett noticed a voided check for $700.52 written from the school’s cafeteria fund. Trivett also noticed that the name Barbara Worrell was written underneath the word “void.”
When Trivett questioned Worrell about the unusual voided check, he said she responded with “It’s a mistake.” But Trivett did not accept that answer and continued his questioning. According to Trivett, Worrell finally admitted that the check for $700.52 from the cafeteria fund was written as her payroll check in her capacity as “finance director for the cafeteria fund.”
Before Trivett had been elected to the school board in May of 2008, he had received, under a FOIA request, a listing of every position and corresponding salary for employees of the school division from Howard’s office. There was no other listed position for Worrell other than her position as finance director.
Trivett brought his concerns to the Virginia State Police on May 17, 2009, and an investigation was opened on May 21, 2009. On May 22, 2009, Special Agent Belinda Glover seized Barbara Worrell’s computer at the school board office. Worrell was placed on administrative leave on May 26, 2009. At a meeting with Trivett after being informed that she was placed on administrative leave, Worrell provided records that she had been paid to oversee the cafeteria fund since 1997, records that showed she was owed money for unpaid “comp time,” and records that showed she was owed money for unused vacation and sick time.
Worrell pled guilty on Dec. 17, 2010, to 13 felony counts of embezzlement and was sentenced on Feb. 18 to serve 2 years and 8 months of a 70-year sentence.
Janet Brown steps in
Interim Superintendent Luttrell contacted Janet Brown, retired, who had served as Executive Director of Business and Finance for 26 years for Poquoson schools. According to Brown, as she entered the school board office for an interview with Luttrell over the Memorial Day weekend, he handed her the keys to Worrell’s office, effectively starting her roller-coaster ride with a financial system in complete disarray and a school system in deep trouble.
What Brown found was an outdated computer that ran an MS-DOS accounting system, which had been returned by the State Police, and which crashed the first time she attempted to access it. Most of the files of financial records were missing or incomplete — including records of W-4s, payroll records, stipend agreements, vendor agreements and employee contracts. School employees wound up lining up outside the school board office in June looking for their paychecks as Brown struggled to find information on individual employees.
On her second day at work, Brown found a notification from the Virginia Department of Education that placed sanctions on the school system for failing to file required documents for federal funds under the Title 1 program, along with a notice that those funds already given to the school may have to be repaid. Worrell had been warned for two years that required documents for Title I funding were not being provided to VDOE and would result in sanctions. Tracey Tunstall, Director of Federal Programs, made an announcement recently that the Title I program recently passed an ARRA audit with “flying colors.”
And, because it was June, Brown also had to close out the 2008/2009 school budget and had to re-create the new 2009/2010 school budget with very limited files to ascertain exactly what had been requested, expended and provided.
Three weeks after Brown came aboard, Luttrell left and Brown also assumed the duties of school superintendent. The board hired Dr. Donna Power as school Superintendent in August 2009.
Further investigation by Brown revealed that school accounts were in arrears to vendors. Brown noted “It took everything we knew and had been qualified for to turn this system around. We were rebuilding an entire financial system.”
Once Brown began to see light at the end of the financial mess and had begun to put procedures and people in place, in August 2009, a man wearing Bermuda shorts, a Hawaiian shirt and holding a badge showed up at the school board office. He was an agent of the Internal Revenue Service who put Brown on notice that the schools owed $20,000 for “failure to file 941’s on time.” Through Brown’s and her staff’s efforts, all overdue penalties and interest have been paid.
Janet Brown will retire in June 2011. The school board, with Tim Trivett continuing as chairman, announced her retirement with much regret. According to Trivett, “She has single-handedly saved this school.” Annette Thompson, who has worked side-by-side with Brown will continue in her position as financial consultant.
The Colonial Beach school system has started paying back $498,617 in funds that town council and Town Auditor Nancy Miller say are owed from the 2002-2007 overspending spree by the schools under the leadership of Howard.
“We are doing everything we can to pay this back, but we cannot earn money,” Trivett said. “For them to put this burden on us for something we didn’t create makes it difficult. My hope is that we can move forward and put this behind us and improve the relationship between the schools and council.”
Trivett became the conduit for change for Beach schools when he threw his hat into the ring. He was able to effectuate that change by providing leadership and oversight and the hiring of the right people. Janet Brown, Annette Thompson and Donna Power have all stepped up to the challenge and the citizens of Colonial Beach have been steadfast in their support of the schools.