BETHLEHEM — The recent disciplinary action of Bethlehem Central’s principal has brought to light the details of an alarming 2014 audit of its unique Lab School program.
Bethlehem Central High School Principal Scott Landry was placed on leave this week, shortly after he was found soliciting his consulting service to attendees of a job fair in which he was representing the school.
The Bethlehem Central School District refused comment on a question specifically referring to Landry’s consulting service and whether it played a role in his current status with the school. Jody Monroe, the district’s interim superintendent, reiterated it was a “personnel” matter, and “very sensitive” issue. However, Landry reportedly said that was the reason shared with him when the district placed him on leave. Nevertheless, the administrator has reportedly said the district’s action against him was more likely in retaliation for his investigation into the Lab School program.
The Lab School is described as a “school within a school,” with more than 100 students enrolled through grade 9 and 12. The program was chartered in 1992, and has since served as a national model for alternative education. It still operates within the mandates of New York State Regents. But, according to the program’s brochure, it comprises of “a community of risk-takers, pioneering active modes of learning that frequently involve students in independent research, formal presentations and interdisciplinary projects.”
Students enrolled in the program are afforded field trips. Historically, juniors and seniors have taken week-long trips, the costs of which are paid by the students’ parents and further backed by fundraisers.
At the time of the 2014 audit, the Lab School used WorldStrides travel agency for some of the program’s field trips. Included within the scope of the audit was a review of rewards provided by Worldstrides in use of its services.
The audit was conducted by QUESTARIII, the district’s internal auditor. The two objectives of the 2014 audit were to evaluate internal controls surrounding cash collections and disbursements, and the maintenance of its accounting records. It concluded with an outline of nearly a dozen different recommendations for change once it was published the following July. Several of the recommendations addressed matters where the program failed to follow basic bookkeeping practices for deposits and expenditures.
“The basic principle for properly documenting and recording money should follow a transparent audit trail,” states the audit within one of the eleven recommendations. “The procedures used for collecting money from fundraisers, donations, or payments made by parents should be documented and be able to support the amount for deposit. Otherwise, there is an increased risk that money could be misappropriated without detection.”
Some key elements from the audit include the following:
QUESTARIII’s audit on the Lab School’s school sponsored field trips concluded in October 2014. The review included interviews with Landry, Lab School Treasurer Kirsten Hynes, Lab School Coordinator Michael Mitchell (as of school year 2014/2015), Lab School Coordinator Steve Smith (prior to 2014/2015), district Chief Business and Financial Officer Judith Kehoe and district Treasurer/Business Administrator Phyllis Albano.
Landry’s hand in the investigation is not clear, but his four-paged response is included as part of the overall 2014/2015 Lab School Audit. A digital copy of the report has been available on the school district’s website under internal audit reports.
“The Lab School Committee has been working for two years in a comprehensive review of the Lab School program,” stated Monroe this week. “As a result of the committee’s work, several changes have been made to improve the program and create a sustainable model for the school going forward. A brief report on this work was provided at the Feb. 3 Board of Education meeting. (See our article on this meeting here.)
The committee held its last formal meeting on May 11 and will be working over the summer to capture in a detailed report what the work of the committee has been, including a plan for program review on a regular basis.”
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.