Last week’s plea-bargain agreement of the teacher/coach at Trinity Christian School in Fayetteville, NC is yet another outward manifestation of a much deeper condition, a symptom of a bigger problem – fully-funded schools.
And the slap on the hand that was received by Heath Curtis Vandevender for embezzling nearly $400,000 of tax-payer money seems to be a bit lenient given the overall circumstances.
As reported by Paul Wooverton in The Fayetteville Observer on June 28, 2017,
Trinity Christian School basketball coach and teacher Heath Curtis Vandevender pleaded guilty Wednesday to embezzling more than $388,000 from North Carolina’s taxpayers.
In a plea-bargain agreement, Vandevender pleaded guilty to embezzlement of state property, a felony. He is to serve three months in jail, pay a $45,000 fine plus court costs, do 100 hours of community service and be on probation for five years. If he violates his probation, a prison sentence of at least one year and four months, but no more than two years and five months, would be activated.
The embezzled money, which the school owed the North Carolina Department of Revenue, has been repaid, lawyers said.
Trinity Christian has produced a number of college basketball players, including many high-profile recruits. The most recent coached by Vandevender was Dennis Smith Jr., picked ninth in the NBA Draft last week by the Dallas Mavericks. Smith played one year at N.C. State, averaging better than 18 points and earning ACC Freshman of the Year honors (http://www.fayobserver.com/news/20170628/coach-from-trinity-christian-school-in-fayetteville-pleads-guilty-to-embezzlement).
That’s tax-payer money that was owed to the state.
To be more specific, it was almost $400,000 of tax-payer money in the form of vouchers (Opportunity Grants) that Vandevender embezzled. Furthermore, when he was arrested, Trinity Christian was the top receiving school of vouchers from the state’s ill-regulated Opportunity Grant program.
Trinity Christian School receives tax money to help lower-income families pay the tuition to enroll their children. In the 2015-16 school year, the Opportunity Scholarship voucher program paid the school $519,750 on behalf of 130 students. This was the most in North Carolina.
Vandevender committed this crime over a period of 8 years starting in January of 2008. That’s not a one-time deal. That’s a premeditated cooking of the books with a recipe finely tuned in the kitchen.
Apparently, Vandevender had a good lawyer who cast a shadow of altruism on his actions and dose of pathos into the proceedings. Wooverton continues,
Vandevender, 49, didn’t keep the money for his own use, his lawyer, Trey Fitzhugh, told Superior Court Judge Kendra Hill.
Instead, he used the money to pay the private school’s expenses, Fitzhugh said, when it struggled with finances and cash flow. The school is so low-budget that Vandevender recently patched the parking lot’s potholes himself instead of hiring a contractor, Fitzhugh said. Employees frequently do similar tasks, the lawyer said.
“There were funds to pay the withholding taxes, but the issue with that is, they wouldn’t have been able to maintain the school in other areas,” Fitzhugh said. “They’re juggling as best they can with limited resources to keep these kids in school.”
- Needing money to pay school expenses?
- Struggling with finances and cash flow?
- Potholes in the parking lot?
- Trouble maintaining physical facilities?
- Employees doing tasks other than teaching?
- Juggling as best they can with limited resources?
Wow, that sounds like the plight of many a traditional public school in the state of North Carolina.
It is easy to get on a soap box here on a Sunday morning and preach about the double standard that is present. But consider the converse.
What if this was a public school administrator trying to keep services in a rural school together. That school would probably have low-income students who cannot receive vouchers to help with expenses. In fact, that school could not even raise its tuition to get more cash flow.
All of the monetary help that school receives from the state is done by an impersonal formula that stipulates that per pupil expenditure for students in North Carolina should be lower when adjusted for inflation than when it was when Vandevender started embezzling.
That administrator would never work in public schools again. And many a lawmaker would be up in arms about the manipulation of the use of tax-payer money.
But Vandevender literally still gets to work at his school that will still receive voucher money next year under a program that was just expanded without a second thought of its actual effectiveness to raise student achievement for the very students whose “money” was embezzled.
What Vandevender’s lawyer argued was that his school, a non-profit organization, was not fully funded.
Welcome to the world of public education. Except most public schools do not have the convenience of receiving voucher money, having a board of directors to help raise money, control over tuition, or reduced restrictions when it comes to testing and other lawful protocols.
And yet traditional public schools still get attacked because of asking for more funds to do the very things that Vandevender claims he was “altruistically” breaking the law to help Trinity to achieve.
The very next day after Wooverton’s report, Bob Luebke shared on the Civitas Institute website in a missive entitled “Schools, Parents – and School Supplies,”
First let say, most parents are happy to contribute to the additional costs of their child’s education. Parents will find additional money for such things as field trip or class pictures. They do it because they know it enriches their child’s educational experience.
This email asks parents to bring additional school supplies to the school for others. Specifically:
We would like to collect supplies for our HGMS students and other community students that may be unable to afford school supplies for the new school year. As you are shopping for your child’s school supplies for the new year…. Please consider purchasing a few extra supplies for donation.
First, let me say I am all for helping those in need. Doing so is our duty.
But let’s remember the school is making this request. Last I checked Wake County Public Schools have $1.4 billion budget. The new budget for 2017-18 is $1.6 billion, including $455 million from the county and a record $45 million budget increase.
According to current formulas, the district allots about $71 per child for school supplies. Last year WCPSS spent approximately $11.4 million on school supplies.
That said, a question comes to mind.
The letter asks parents to “consider purchasing a few extra supplies for HGMS students and other community students unable to afford school supplies for the coming year.”
If HGMS or WCPSS does not have on hand any of the suggested supplies that they are asking parents to buy, what school supplies does the school buy with its approximately $71 per child budget?
Asking parents to pitch in is one thing. It’s quite another to ask because taxpayer money is not being spent wisely.
Passing a tin cup for such needs in a billion-dollar school district irks many parents and propels the false narrative that WCPSS schools are financially strapped.
If I’m wrong, someone show me. If not, it should stop (https://www.nccivitas.org/civitas-review/schools-parents-school-supplies/).
It goes without saying that the Civitas Institute is all for vouchers – it promotes “school choice.”
You can draw your own conclusions from Luebke’s words, especially those folks in Wake County who are actually asking to pay higher taxes to fully fund their schools.
But I do wonder what he would have said in response to Vandevender’s lawyer.
Would he have said, “Well, we need more money in our voucher programs!”
Or would he have said, “Tough! You were using tax-payer money unwisely.”
It would also be good to hear what the state superintendent of public schools who is all for vouchers and school choice would have said on this matter.
But alas, he’s in court like Vandevender was.