Report says principal lied about expenses

COVINGTON — The Georgia Professional Standards Commission investigation that resulted in the principal of Livingston Elementary School having her educational certificate suspended alleged she violated three professional standards, mismanaged funds and failed to appropriately oversee staff.

According to a GPSC report released to The Citizen, a complaint came to the GPSC after the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts found that Wendy Hughes, who was the director of the Teacher Quality Division at the Georgia Department of Education in 2006 and 2007, had grossly mismanaged resources for the Academic Coach Program.

"The educator supervised the GaDOE Academic Coach Program and chose to pursue a contract with a (Regional Educational Service Agency), which transferred program funds into a weak control environment allowing an uncontrolled means of disbursing the funds," according to the findings section of the report. "Contracting with the RESA was a deliberate effort to circumvent the State's and GaDOE's more stringent policies and procedures."

The report also claims that she misrepresented or falsified information on expense reports submitted to the GaDOE and the RESA to receive reimbursement from state funds; received reimbursement and allowed subordinates to receive reimbursements through RESA for travel and other expenses not allowed by GaDOE and state policies; allowed a subordinate to improperly expend program funds; and allowed a subordinate to circumvent state and GaDOE policies to employ and pay relatives through program funds.

The eight-page report shows that Hughes misrepresented or falsified information to receive reimbursement from state funds for about $200 in travel expenses in 2006 and she received $850 in unallowable reimbursement from program funds in 2007.

Hughes said last week that she repaid travel funds.

It also states that she knew of employees' reimbursements for expenses that were unallowable and circumvented state and GaDOE policies and procedures for travel, furniture, equipment and subcontractors. She also knew of and allowed the program manager to circumvent procedures to employ eight relatives, including the wife, niece and daughter of a program manager, who were paid through program funds in 2006 and 2007. The report didn't specify how much funding was involved in that violation.

Additionally, the report states that not only did Hughes allow the manager to improperly hire relatives, she allowed that manager to pay contractors exorbitant fees ranging from $3,000 per day to $6,000 per month, and one who was paid $10,000, for mostly clerical work. These funds were paid sometimes only through verbal agreements or with documents paid to nonexistant businesses. Also, "irrelevant" programs that cost in excess of $70,000 were hosted. According to the report, Hughes said she felt the programs were legitimate.

The GPSC determined that Hughes' conduct violated the following three rules:

• Failing to exemplify honesty and integrity in the course of professional practice by falsifying, misrepresenting, omitting or erroneously reporting information submitted to federal, state and other governmental agencies;

• Failing to honor the trust of dealing with public funds and property with a high level of honesty, accuracy and responsibility by misusing public or school-related funds and submitting fraudulent requests for reimbursement of expenses for pay; and

• Failing to demonstrate conduct that follows generally recognized professional standards by exhibiting conduct that impaired her ability to function professionally and demonstrating a pattern of behavior that was detrimental to the health, welfare, discipline or morals of students.

Her educational certificate was suspended for nine months, from Aug. 1 to April 30.

After resigning from her director position in June 2007, she began working as principal of Livingston Elementary School in August 2007. She previously worked as a teacher and instructional coordinator in Rockdale and DeKalb county public schools from 1991 to 1999.