FBI looking into St. Joseph School District's finances

Friday, April 11, 2014 | 11:16 a.m. CDT; updated 4:44 p.m. CDT, Friday, April 11, 2014

ST. JOSEPH — Federal investigators are looking into a northwest Missouri school district's finances after questions were raised last month about stipends given to a number of top school officials without school board approval.

St. Joseph School District Superintendent Fred Czerwonka, who was hired last summer, apologized at a meeting Thursday night for not going to the Board of Education before awarding the stipends. He has said administrative salaries were low when he took over, as was morale, and the stipends were a temporary way to address those issues.

"I respectfully ask that you allow me to do the job that you hired me to do. Please allow me to be the superintendent, and we will be that premier school district," he told board members.

Earlier Thursday, FBI agents met with Czerwonka, according to his assistant, Steve Huff, and later with Human Resources Director Doug Flowers, the St. Joseph News-Press reported.

FBI spokesman Kurt Lipanovich declined to confirm the investigation but said "the FBI is always interested in listening to allegations of financial fraud or misuse of funds involving the St. Joseph School District."

School board member Chris Danford raised questions last month about $250,000 in stipends paid to administrators, principals and assistant principals at the beginning of the school year. She also questioned why Flowers had promoted five staff members — including his wife — to technical director status without board approval.

Danford said the stipends enhanced administrative salaries without going through the board, as required by district policy. A few days after the March 24 meeting where Danford raised her concerns, the district's chief financial officer was placed on administrative leave.

District officials have declined to comment on his status or say why he was placed on leave.

Danford said she understood that Czerwonka has a job to do but reminded him that he is not the ultimate authority in the school district.

"Because when push comes to shove, the seven people up here are the ones who are responsible," she said.

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