Update: School audit explores Bearden middle school cheer finances

6:46 PM, Aug 30, 2011   |    comments
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Knox County School records show the Bearden Middle School cheer team took in more than $35,000 between 2009 and 2011.  That money includes fundraisers, parents payments for clothing orders, and fees collected for camps.

While concerned parents sparked an audit--- asking questions about a one-page cost and fundraiser break down they received, the school district has folders full of invoices and purchase orders detailing the account that were made available to 10News following an open records request.

District records indicate a lot of the money went to cheer camps, uniforms, and clothing through transactions where the proper paperwork and approval processes were followed.

But, some of the money--- auditors say about $800 --- was spent on things that can't be traced.  They report cash was spent on food for the team and the coach would spend money to buy gifts for the squad.  The coach detailed where the money went but couldn't provide receipts.

Parents who initially questioned the bookkeeping practices say they maintain there is more than $800 unaccounted for.  Tuesday, one parent wishing to remain anonymous said they never agreed for their money to be spent on items like one iPod for the team. 

The auditor also found the coach collected and kept lesson fees for sessions that were treated like tutoring.  The private, paid lessons are a violation of school board policy.

Some of the same issues found in the latest audit were raised by the State of Tennessee Comptroller in April of 2009, just months before the 2009-2010 school year.  That audit recommended changes to the way teachers and coaches collect money from students and purchase orders are handled.

Personnel records kept by the district's human resources department show the coach was reprimanded in a formal letter this month and was "aware of her mistakes, that she let the money collection and management get out of hand."

The same day, August 3, the coach resigned saying it was a personal decision to step-down.

Auditors found no problems with the coach's classroom accounts and her teaching performance evaluations have been very favorable.

At the end of July, there was just shy of $8,000 remaining in the cheer team account as the team prepares to start-up again with a new coach.

Previous Story

 The world of middle school cheer-leading can be an expensive one; just ask Bearden Middle School parents.  Last year they held an August car-wash to help pay for expenses but the $500 raised sure didn't go far.  In fact, parents estimate the entire team of 18 girls paid around $30,000 for competition, uniforms, and other expenses last year.

The problem is, those same parents said the school administrators haven't been able to show where exactly that money went.  When asked by parents, school leadership provided what appears to be a Microsoft Word document that contains math errors and didn't list every revenue source the team had.  Parents estimate somewhere around $20,000 in revenue isn't accounted for.

Those parents spoke to 10News on the condition their names remain confidential for fear their children would see repercussions if their parents spoke out.  Still, that group was able to provide documentation showing an emailed paper-trail that indicates the district was notified of concerns in June. 

Late Friday, 10News submitted an open records request for the personnel file of the coach involved, two principals at the school, and the school's bookkeeper.  We also asked to inspect the accounting system and financial records pertinent to Bearden Middle School's cheer team.

Monday, Knox County Schools indicated they were working on finding an appointment time where school leadership could show the financial records.  Personnel files required the redaction of personal information and are expected to be made available on Tuesday.

The school district's spokeswoman couldn't immediately say if there was an open investigation in the case but did confirm an audit was done.  Details of that audit were also not immediately available.

Last year, that cheer team spent at least three practice sessions at Tataru's Gymnastics Center in Farragut.  Parents paid for the gym-time, typically somewhere around $10 per session they thought would go to the gymnastics center.

Monday, the co-owner of Tutaru's told 10News they were never paid.  While they didn't seek the money and didn't want to get in the middle of a fight--- they had expected some form of reimbursement.

At this point, parents believe all cheer team activity is suspended.  An email sent on August 11th from Bearden Middle School's Assistant Principal said so.

"As of mid July ALL cheer-leading activities were suspended until further notice.  This includes any practice, competition, etc." the email to parents said.

The same email indicates Bearden Middle School was advertising for a new cheerleading coach.

Monday, Knox County Schools told 10News the cheer team will start-up in mid-to-late September.  Several weeks after the typical start date according to parents.

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