ARNOLD, Mo. – For years, many “parents, residents and staff” of the Fox C-6 school district suspected that former Superintendent Dianne Critchlow was misusing school funds, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
As it turns out, they were absolutely right. According to a state audit, Critchlow ran up at least $100,000 worth of personal purchases with school credit cards and committed many other questionable financial acts.
But Critchlow does not deserve all the blame.
While so many people in the community smelled something fishy, the Fox school board remained embarrassingly in the dark. The board allowed Critchlow to remain on the job for a full decade, apparently without noticing anything improper going on.
“The former superintendent used tax dollars to personally benefit herself and those who were close to her,” Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway told the Post-Dispatch for an April, 2016 news report.
“This occurred because there was no board oversight or little board oversight that allowed this to happen for so long.”
Galloway went on to say that the abuse of funds, and the lack of school oversight, represented “serious mismanagement of taxpayer dollars.”
Critchlow certainly did not act out of financial desperation. When she retired under pressure in 2015, she was earning a straight salary of $276,468, making her one of the highest-paid school officials in Missouri, the Post-Dispatch reported.
Her house in the school district had five bedrooms, five bathrooms and covered nearly 4,100 square feet. It was listed for sale after her retirement for $489,900, according to the newspaper.
Yet she still got caught with her hand in the cookie jar.
“Critchlow racked up about $100,000 in questionable expenses on three school district credit cards for things such as iTunes gift cards, shampoo, watches, wedding gifts and a garlic press …” the Post-Dispatch reported.
“She manipulated her own salary without board approval, the audit states, by drawing up contract adjustments and signing them with the board’s electronic signature to net about $20,000 over two years beyond what the school board had agreed to pay her.
“And Critchlow ‘double dipped,’ the report continues, by requesting and receiving reimbursement for some of the personal purchases made on the district credit cards — essentially paying herself with district money for the goods she was getting for free.
“The 104-page audit backs up the suspicion that many parents, residents and staff held for years in the Fox School District.”
There’s more, according to the Post-Dispatch.
The state audit revealed that Critchlow directed about $7,000 worth of school district college scholarship funds to her two sons.
It revealed that Critchlow purchased a car for $43,000 with school funds, even though the board only approved $34,000 for a vehicle.
Critchlow apparently arranged a promotion for her husband, fellow Fox school administrator Jamie Critchlow, without school board approval, and allowed him to be paid at a level reserved for holders of advanced college degrees which he does not have.
Critchlow used school money to play travel expenses for family and friends. She used district credit cards to pay for traffic tickets and restaurant meals.
“The credit cards bought about $8,000 in gift cards to restaurants such as Pizza Hut, Burger King and Subway,” the Post-Dispatch wrote. “Critchlow’s documentation indicated some were for ‘needy families,’ but provided no documentation on who the needy families were, the audit states.”
Overall, Critchlow misspent a total “ranging from $470,941 to $1,100,116, going back to 2010,” according to MyLeaderPaper.com.
“The misappropriated funds include $214,000 that auditors allege directly benefited Critchlow or her husband, Jamie Critchlow, another former Fox administrator,” the news site reported.