Nothing To Celebrate

Amphi Officials Use Day-Care Tuition Funds For Parties And Retreats.

MORE SCANDAL bubbled to the surface in the Amphi School District last week. And outgoing Amphi Superintendent Bob "Bubba" Smith is right in the middle of it.

Seems Bubba was skimming off the top of the district's preschool company with a $7,000-plus expense fund that was paying for food, drink, parties and retreats.

A little background: The school district got into the day-care biz in a big way during the 1980s. To run the pre- and after-school programs, Amphi officials created a non-profit, tax-exempt business called Amphitheater Extension Program, or AEP.

As working parents shelled out tuition to AEP to watch their children before and after school, the non-profit grew into a $2 million-a-year program run by a board of directors which happens to include Amphi Board members Richard Scott and Virginia Houston, as well as -- surprise! -- Bubba Smith. Scott and Houston, along with Board VP Gary Woodard, are currently targets of a recall campaign in the district.

When he became superintendent, Bubba was given control of what appears to be some sort of "entertainment" fund -- and he put it to use.

Although district officials have declined to release complete financial records of AEP -- it's a private corporation, so they're not required to do so under public record law, which the district tends to be contemptuous of anyway -- the records that have dripped out show thousands of dollars were spent on resort getaways and parties.

As it works out, the whole arrangement is probably perfectly legal. But while it might not be crooked, it sure as hell is sleazy -- the same sort of sleazy dealings that have haunted the district in recent years in land dealings and other matters.

Admittedly, the percentage of dollars being spent through the fund is small. And some of the expenses -- scholarships for kids or flowers sent in sympathy -- are legitimate.

But booze? A $200 farewell party for Board member Mike Bernal, whom voters soundly rejected at the polls in favor of Kenneth Smith in November 1998? A $2,237 district staff retreat at the Westward Look, complete with food and drink? A $1,340 Christmas bash with food and door prizes?

It's not as if Bubba is a poor man. He earns $94,175 a year. The district gives him an $8,200 expense account and a car allowance valued at $6,400. He also earns close to $400 for each vacation day he does not take. And he's received about $7,000 in bonuses since he became superintendent in June 1996.

All things considered, you'd think he could buy his own beer.

That $7,000 could have done a lot of good things, especially for kids who are in day-care programs because their parents are holding down two jobs.

Once again, Bubba's judgment is atrocious. But at least he's finally on his way out -- he announced his plans to retire next June just as the AEP scandal was breaking.

But the Board members who have supported him remain -- and they'll be the ones choosing Bubba's replacement.

Board president Scott has said the scandal is much ado about nothing. According to him, Amphi Board member Nancy Young Wright, who first complained about the problems with the fund, cooked up the entire mess for an ever-changing list of reasons he dreamed up in the days after the scandal broke: She's running for higher office (we should be so lucky), she wants to fuel the recall effort, she just plain gets her kicks from destroying Amphi's reputation.

Sadly, Scott doesn't realize Amphi's rep continues to sink because he allows this kind of reprehensible activity to take place behind closed doors.

Smith told reporters the fund was designed to pay for things that would be inappropriate to spend tax dollars on. Well, he was partly right -- although it's mystifying why he thought it was okay to spend low-income kids' tuition on parties for Amphi administrators.

The Board's inability to see the problem with this arrangement is just an example of the institutional corruption within Amphi.

"When they're spending money on booze for parties...that should be going back into AEP for supplies and wages for the people who work there, that to me is just appalling," says Ramona Johnston, who is chairing the recall effort.

She's right. Amphi needs a thorough housecleaning. If you live in the Amphi School District, find a recall petition and sign it today.

Parents As Children's Advocates are gathering signatures for Amphi recall petitions from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and 1 to 5 p.m. on Sundays at Nanini Library, 7300 N. Shannon Road, and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Woods Library, 3455 N. First Ave. For more information or the Amphi recall petition nearest you, call 297-3594.

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