The Professional Growth and Development Fund had made $42,590 available to teachers who attended conferences. An educator could be reimbursed for up to $1,000, pending approval by a committee of teachers union members.
The investigation, conducted by D-11 chief financial officer Glenn Gustafson, found that union vice president Mark Hampson was wrongly reimbursed with district funds after he attended a "political" conference. He was requested to pay the $362.27 back to D-11.
The inquiry also found that a reimbursement application from teachers union president Irma Valerio contained a fraudulent signature of the PROGRAD committee chair, Diane Ciccarelli. Ciccarelli's concerns initiated the investigation, says Gustafson. He was unable to determine who forged the signature on the application, which had been approved.
Gustafson says Valerio paid back that $1,000 reimbursement. The inquiry was released a few days after Valerio announced her resignation as union president. Valerio says she was asked to step down by a majority of the board, after she refused to promote certain board members. She adds that her resignation is unconnected to the investigation.
"Our board, like the past D-11 board [of education], had some divisions," says Valerio, referring to the deeply divided school board that weathered a recall of two members last fall.
Tom Watson, another union board member, also stepped down. Valerio says Watson wanted her out, and the two agreed to leave and allow the union to "move forward."
Watson did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Valerio says union disagreements stemmed in part from the End the Chaos recall, which ousted school board members Eric Christen and Sandy Shakes. Valerio was reluctant to get the union involved; Watson was an avid promoter of the effort. In the end, the union endorsed the recall.
"We have different philosophical views," Valerio says, adding she will return as a computer teacher at Jenkins Middle School this fall.
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