Lawsuits detail troubles in Breathitt schools

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Associated Press

Posted on December 11, 2012 at 7:01 PM

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Two administrators in a troubled eastern Kentucky school district filed lawsuits offering some details about the management and financial problems that resulted in a state takeover.

The lawsuits, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Lexington, say those who cooperated with the FBI during an investigation into vote fraud in Breathitt County were targeted for retaliation.

The Lexington Herald-Leader (http://bit.ly/UuNu5a) reports the lawsuits were filed by Charles David Napier, assistant superintendent, and Steve Banks, transportation director, against Breathitt County school board members and former superintendent Arch Turner, who is in prison after pleading guilty to vote-buying charges.

Just last week, the Kentucky Board of Education voted to give management of the Appalachian school district to the state after audits found management and finances in disarray.

According to the lawsuits, Turner said that he would get even with people who had given information to authorities and that he had a long memory.

"If you mess with the bull, you get the horns," Turner said, according to the lawsuits.

Turner resigned in May from his $160,000-a-year job and later pleaded guilty to heading a conspiracy to buy votes in the 2010 election, to lying to the FBI and to trying to get others to cover up the scheme.

He was sentenced last month to serve two years in prison and pay a $250,000 fine.

Also named as defendants are former board member George Daniel Strong; board members Shirley Hudson, Ina Southwood and Bobby Gross; and Melanie Stevens, who was hired as interim superintendent after Turner was jailed but has since been suspended.

Napier said in his lawsuit that he was ostracized for giving information to the FBI and passed over for a chance to become superintendent.

Banks said in his lawsuit that Turner demanded that he pay money to support Strong in the May 2010 primary election.

When Banks refused, Turner threatened his job, the lawsuit said.

Banks later gave information to the FBI in the investigation of Turner, according to his lawsuit.

After Turner was indicted in March but while he was still on the job, Banks was told that Turner, Hudson and Southwood were working to cut his pay, his lawsuit said.

Banks got notice soon after that 20 days of pay a year had been cut from his salary, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuits by Napier and Banks, filed for them by Hyden attorney Cheryl U. Lewis, seek an unspecified amount of damages to compensate the two and punish those named as defendants.

In a review released in October, state Auditor Adam Edelen's office found a number of financial problems from Turner's watch.

Among other things, Turner doled out a total of more than $193,000 in extra pay over three years to some school employees, canceled 10 school days during the 2011-12 year but paid teachers a total of $526,350 for the missed days, and had the school board make a direct contribution to his pension without having it counted as a taxable benefit, the audit found.

The district also bought scores of tickets and paid for hotel rooms so Turner and others could attend the boys' state basketball tournament, even though Breathitt County was not in it, the audit found.

State Education Commissioner Terry Holliday then ordered an audit of the district's management.

Among other things, the review found that management of the district was ineffective, that poor communication and spotty teacher training were hindering efforts to boost student achievement, that the school board didn't have a clear picture of the district's finances and that the district had falsified its dropout rate.

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Information from: Lexington Herald-Leader, http://www.kentucky.com

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