The St. Joseph School District in St. Joseph, Mo., faces a raft of problems, including an investigation by the FBI, a federal grand jury in Kansas City, the U.S. Department of Education and the Missouri State Auditor.
But at least one of the embattled district’s problems may be cycling to an end.
Former Chief Financial Officer Beau Musser, after seven months on paid administrative leave for accusations of sexual misconduct, returned to work Monday in the St. Joseph School District. Musser was placed on leave and accused of misconduct after he helped bring to light $270,000 in improper stipends the district paid to 54 administrations, from associate superintendents to assistant building principals, according to a lawsuit he filed against the district in Buchanan County.
Superintendent Dr. Fred Czerwonka, according to many in the district, handed out those stipends soon after he was hired. He quickly picked up a nickname for those generous payments: "The Candy Man."
“So my efforts were to protect taxpayer dollars and do what was right and I was punished for it,” Musser says.
Musser also says he uncovered other improprieties: 4,000 gallons of missing gasoline, cars purchased without board approval and a sloppy system for approving contracts with employees.
“Nobody over the years, until I got there and basically stood up and said wait a second, you know, this is wrong,” Musser says.
The St. Joseph School District, with 11,000 students, would not make anyone available for an interview and would only offer a statement from Czerwonka.
"We welcome back Mr. Musser to the St. Joseph School District," the statement reads. "The focus of the St. Joseph School District remains the same: to educate each child for success. It is important for our leadership team to move forward together to continue the work of this district.”
But the Musser saga is far from over.
Even though he’s returned to work, his lawsuit against the district, charging wrongful termination, breach of contract and slander, remains active. That’s where things get murky.
School board member Chris Danford, who also blew the whistle on the improper stipends, says she’s worried about how much Musser’s lawsuit could cost the district.
“Was Beau Musser’s reputation hurt in the seven months he was on leave? All you have to do is Google his name and see what comes up,” she says.
Danford says the board voted in executive session two weeks ago to ask Musser to return to work. This after an outside investigation that cost the district $12,000 showed allegations of sexual misconduct leveled against Musser by Czerwonka and Human Resources Director Doug Flowers to be false.
The district is also paying an outside human resources firm to help transition Musser back into the district and paying another law firm to investigate whether Czerwonka and Flowers acted within district rules when they put Musser on administrative leave.
“There’s no accountability for the superintendent and his HR director,” says Danford, which is why they need an outside investigation.
The district has a long way to go before it puts this all behind it. The FBI and a grand jury in Kansas City continue to investigate. Dozens of people have been interviewed and, according to a source, the district just got done fulfilling a subpoena for records from the grand jury.
The district also is waiting for a forensic audit from the Missouri State Auditor. Part of the district’s local property tax assessment will sunset next year and if voters don’t approve a new levy the district stands to lose $6.5 million.
A date for that levy election hasn’t been set but the earliest would be in April.