Bell City School issue sent to attorney general

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Stoddard County Prosecuting Attorney Briney Welborn has asked the Missouri Attorney General's office to review a state investigative report to determine if charges should be filed concerning the Bell City School District illegally obtaining state aid.

Welborn declined Monday to discuss his action. But he previously said it was one of three options he considered. The other two were to file charges or do nothing in the case.

He agreed to look at the issue at the request of former Bell City school board member Curtis Finney who contends school officials are guilty of "gross public mistrust and illegal activities."

On that basis, he said, school board members should resign or be removed from office.

School board president Larry Gene Strobel said earlier this summer that he won't resign and doesn't expect other members to resign either.

An investigation earlier this year by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education found that school officials counted 10 students who didn't reside in the district in enrollment numbers used to obtain state aid.

DESE staff, at Finney's urging, recently sent a copy of the investigative report to the county prosecutor. DESE later provided Welborn with a copy of a controversial rental contract for a house that was listed as the address of some of the students in question.

Finney has repeatedly claimed that the contract was fraudulently drawn up to make it look like the students lived in the district.

A spokesman for Attorney General Jay Nixon said his staff received the request from Welborn late last week. The attorney general's office will review the case, but at this point it's uncertain if state prosecutors will take any enforcement action.

Still, Finney said he's glad the attorney general's staff will look at the case.

"I am happy that something is being done," he said.

Finney contends that school officials "cheated" to obtain state aid that the district wasn't owed.

School officials have denied any criminal wrongdoing.

But in a rare move, the state board of education voted this summer to deduct $13,000 from the scheduled June payment to the district to reimburse the state for the money it was owed.

"I don't want to see anyone go to jail or be fined," Finney said. "I would just like to see them removed from office."

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

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