05/01/13 — District addresses sentencing

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District addresses sentencing

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 1, 2013 1:46 PM

Now that former assistant superintendent Sprunt Hill has had his day in court, Wayne County Public Schools officials say they are relieved the more than three-year investigation is over and deny other school employees might be involved or that recent retirements had anything to do with the case.

Hill was arrested last week and on Tuesday appeared in Wayne County District Court, where he pleaded guilty to unlawfully accepting gifts and/or favors from a contractor/supplier as a government employee.

School officials have remained mum throughout the process, distancing themselves from the personnel matter and maintaining full cooperation with all investigating agencies.

But Tuesday afternoon, Dr. Steven Taylor, the school system superintendent, spoke out.

"Wayne County Public Schools holds all of its employees to the highest standards," he said. "It was with great disappointment to learn this morning that former assistant superintendent Sprunt Hill pleaded guilty to illegal conduct while employed with the district.

"Personally, I am deeply saddened that a trusted colleague would exercise poor judgment in carrying out the responsibilities and duties of his position."

Taylor also addressed a TV news account linking his recent retirement announcement and a similar retirement announcement by Dr. Craig McFadden, assistant superintendent for accountability/student services, to Hill's case.

The timing is both coincidental and "completely unrelated," Taylor said, noting that the Wayne County Board of Education had asked both administrators to stay on following their respective announcements.

"It is ludicrous to suggest or speculate that our retirements are somehow connected to the investigations," Taylor said. "Dr. McFadden oversees testing and our Exceptional Children's Department and has absolutely no dealings with facilities and maintenance bids or contractors.

"Further, he has spent the past 38 years pouring his heart and soul into helping our district raise student achievement across all levels and would never had put himself before the children of this county. His character is above reproach and I have never met a man with more attributes of integrity and honesty."

Taylor also has 34 years of service in education and said he prefers to look at the remainder of his tenure with pride. He will retire June 30.

"With this case officially closed, with regard to Wayne County Public Schools, I will retire with a clear conscience knowing that no other employees were involved and that my efforts from the very beginning of the investigation and throughout will help deter and prevent this type of criminal behavior from occurring within our school district again," he said.

Ken Derksen, director of communication services for the district, also noted that the district had since put into place several fiscal safeguards, increased protocols for department operations and hired a full-time internal auditor.

Hill's sentence included a 45-day suspended jail sentence, 12 months of supervised probation, a $5,000 fine plus court costs and 50 hours of community service.

He was given the opportunity to speak before the sentencing but declined. His attorney spoke on his behalf, saying that the defendant had "imposed a sentence upon himself in the embarrassment of having been so foolish (as) to tarnish his good name and reputation."

The case was handled by a special prosecution team from the state Attorney General's Office, aided by the Wayne County Sheriff's Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

But the ordeal began in 2009, when school officials were approached by federal, state and local investigators about allegations of illegal conduct in the maintenance department.

Wayne County Public Schools fully cooperated, providing full access to files, databases and staff as needed, said Ken Derksen, director of communication services for the district.

On Oct. 7, 2009, Danny Langley, the district's maintenance director, was placed on administrative leave and Wayne Rhodes, the former assistant maintenance director, was also connected to the investigation. Rhodes retired in September 2009.

In late 2009, Derksen said, the district learned of a separate investigation regarding allegations of illegal conduct involving Hill, then assistant superintendent of auxiliary services. On Dec. 18 of that year, he was placed on administrative leave and later retired, on March 1, 2010.

Langley and Rhodes have since been charged with illegal conduct. In December 2011, both pleaded guilty to a bid-rigging scam and were sentenced in federal court this past September.

News-Argus Staff Writer John Joyce contributed to this report.