STOW — Stow-Munroe Falls Superintendent Thomas Bratten "authorized illegal expenditures and misspent taxpayer dollars," Ohio Auditor Keith Faber announced Tuesday.
State auditors reviewed school payroll records and found that Franca Padula, the administrative assistant to the superintendent, received payment for one hour of unworked overtime for each day she worked from May 6, 2017 through Nov. 24, 2018. Auditors said she was not working those hours.
The state issued a finding for recovery against Padula for $14,111. Because Bratten approved the time cards, he is jointly responsible for paying the district back for Padula’s overtime pay.
Padula declined to comment.
Board of Education president Kelly Toppin said the issue stems from policies enacted by a previous superintendent.
“Only recently did the board learn that former Superintendent Russ Jones instituted an overtime reporting practice for his administrative assistant in an improper attempt to raise her compensation while not increasing her base salary,” she said. “We are disappointed that these irregularities were not brought to our board’s attention in a more timely manner and are reviewing this situation with the administrative staff to make sure a similar situation does not happen again.”
Jones did not immediately return calls or messages to comment.
The report also says Bratten used $981 of public funds to pay for items such as flower arrangements and Christmas gifts that went mostly to board members and administrative staff. He also spent $1,309 of public funds on personal travel expenses.
The Auditor’s Office has issued additional findings for recovery against Bratten for $2,290.
Toppin said the board “intends to work with the auditor’s office to make sure the district’s general fund is reimbursed for these and other payments.”
“We intend to work with the superintendent and the treasurer to make sure all administrative staff understand the district’s policies regarding overtime pay, the correct procedures for tracking overtime worked by anyone employed by the Stow-Munroe Falls City Schools,” Toppin said.
Bratten said he was “in the process of reimbursing the district’s general fund for all of the expenses the State Auditor’s Office found I had claimed on my expense account without proper supporting documentation.”
“While the amounts involved spanned a period of three years, they were relatively small and claimed in good faith,” he said. “I now understand that I should have taken further steps to provide accompanying verification for costs, even when those costs were approved by the board.”
Toppin said in a January interview that Bratten had paid the district back $1,852. No additional funds have been paid back since that time, Toppin confirmed Monday.
Bratten was placed on paid administrative leave in November, and was reinstated in January.
The investigation revealed “issues,” which Toppin said in January “were largely the result of poor judgment and a lack of appropriate oversight.”
“We are confident there was never a conscious attempt to misuse district funds,” the board said in January, after lifting Bratten’s administrative leave.
Bratten, whose contract was renewed in 2017 through July 31, 2023, is in his fifth year as the district's superintendent.
To read the full report, go to: http://www.ohioauditor.gov/auditsearch/Reports/2019/Stow-Munroe_CSD_18-Summit.pdf.
Reporter April Helms can be reached at 330-541-9423, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @AprilKHelms_RPC