Attorney general will not pursue complaint against Bell City schools

Thursday, January 25, 2007

BELL CITY, Mo. -- The case that resulted from the wrongful residency claim of 10 students in the Bell City School District seems to have run its course.

Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon's office confirmed Wednesday it will not pursue the complaint against superintendent Rhonda Niemczyk and the Bell City School Board.

"There really isn't any reason for us to be involved or to take any action," said Scott Holste, a spokesman for Nixon's office. "Our review showed that the superintendent and the school district were not involved in the lease" of the house.

Holste said the decision was made several weeks ago and that both Welborn and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) have been informed of the decision.

He also pointed out that Nixon's decision will not change the ruling from DESE.

In May, DESE ordered the district to repay more than $13,000 in overpaid state aid.

DESE distributes aid to schools based on the number of students in a given district. They charged that Bell City had unlawfully obtained aid and would be held responsible.

The entire amount was then withheld from the district's June 2006 state aid check.

School officials have professed their innocence from the beginning and said that they never intentionally defrauded the state.

DESE's investigation determined that regardless of the intent, 10 students were on record as living in a vacant, run-down house outside of Bell City.

The investigation never determined how the students came to have false addresses, and Nixon seems satisfied that school officials weren't involved in the act.

"We concluded that there was no reason for further involvement or action by our office," Holste said.

In August, Stoddard County Prosecuting Attorney Briney Welborn forwarded the case to Nixon's office to determine if charges should be filed.

Former school board member Curtis Finney pushed for months to see the case move along and urged the resignation or removal of six of the seven school board members from office.

Finney, also the spokesperson for Citizens for Honest, Legal, Moral and Ethical Leadership in our School System, originally charged that Niemczyk and the district were guilty of "gross public mistrust and illegal activities."

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