Audit of Countryside booster club accounts raises concerns



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Tue. December 7, 2010 | John C. Cotey | Email

Stephanie Hawks said all she wanted was for the Countryside High School football booster club to stop spending its money so freely, to exercise some oversight and, mostly, to cut up its ATM card and find a way out of $28,000 in debt.

For that, she says, she was vilified and removed from her position on the board in September by then-president John Schroeder.

But an audit of the Countryside Touchdown Club Inc. released recently has vindicated Hawks, and even surprised her.

“It’s 10,000 times worse than I thought it would be,” she said.

The Office of Professional Standards’ audit reveals the booster club raised, and spent, more than $300,000 over a three-year period with zero oversight, shoddy bookkeeping and questionable spending.

Most of the $319,769.52 in expenditures are not documented in receipts, check registers or ledgers.

Of the 1,331 transactions audited from July 1, 2007, through Sept. 30, 2010, receipts were provided for 194.

Of particular note were 889 debit card purchases — 141 receipts were provided.

And the report flagged 337 purchases totaling $27,615 that require further documentation to determine their propriety.

Included in that total: more than $6,000 in meals at 15 different establishments, more than $3,000 at four different gas stations and 32 payments totaling $5,038.55 to Bright House Networks.

The problems extend past the debit card expenditures.

The report says that more than $7,000 in cleared checks was not recorded in the club’s check register and almost $34,000 in cash withdrawals was undocumented.

Even for the money that the booster club raised, all $320,352.88, there was no documentation for deposits into the account.

• • •

Hawks voiced her concerns about club spending in September after Schroeder sent an e-mail to the board telling it he was in “full command of the money.”

She said she was president-elect at the time and had organized golf and bowling tournament fundraisers, “but I couldn’t put money in the bank fast enough.”

She told first-year varsity coach Jared Davis he should take Schroeder’s name off the checking account and cut up the club debit card. The next day, she said she was taken off the club checking account “and essentially voted out of office.”

Davis confirmed meeting with Hawks but denies removing her name from the checking account or firing junior varsity coach Albert Hood after he questioned the club’s spending, which Hawks alleges.

But most of the spending issues occurred while John Davis, now at Clearwater Central Catholic, was the head coach.

John Davis said Monday that he was surprised to see the club had raised such large amounts of money — $123,368.17 in 2007-08 and roughly $88,000 the following two years. He said it was unclear to him where all the money came from, or where most of it went, and called the revelations in the report “unbelievable.”

He was unaware that more than $15,000 was paid to assistant coaches who were nonschool board personnel without the submission of mandated 1099 tax forms, though he recalls reminding Schroeder to make sure the proper paperwork was submitted.

One assistant coach who received $2,398 in coaching supplements in 2009 from the Pinellas County School Board was also paid $1,800 by the booster club.

Davis does, however, admit to paying little attention to booster club happenings.

“I don’t enjoy the booster club part of it; I don’t like the raising money part of it,” he said. “And to my knowledge, everything was running smoothly. So I didn’t get involved. But I should have.”

Davis said he asked Schroeder to stop picking up the tabs so frequently for assistant coaches. The OPS audit listed more than $3,000 spent in visits to the Dogwater Cafe, a popular hangout of Cougars coaches while Davis was at the school.

Alcoholic beverages were noted on several receipts.

“You can’t put booze on a school fricking (expense report),” Davis said.

Davis regrets not wielding more control in booster club dealings.

“It’s hard to believe, knowing him, that he took any money for himself,” he said. “John’s heart is in the right place. He loved those kids. A lot of this stuff can probably be explained away if you have records, but they don’t have records. This makes us all look terrible.

“I was the head coach. I should have been on top of this.”

• • •

Schroeder, 34, stepped down during the last week of September, but not because of budget concerns. He made sexually explicit remarks about Hawks while among Cougars coaches and resigned after Hawks went to school officials.

But Hawks says Schroeder is still running the club. Friday, he was on the Cougars sideline when they lost in the region final to Plant.
Hawks said she was unable to attend her son’s final junior varsity games because of safety concerns.

Schroeder, a Countryside graduate who has no criminal history but did file for bankruptcy in 2003, declined to be interviewed. But his replacement, current club president Jorge Chavez, said he was surprised by some of the things revealed in the audit, such as $3,000 in Tampa Bay Buccaneers tickets bought in 2008. He was also surprised the report was released to the public. He said he was under the impression the OPS would come back to the booster club for more documentation as needed.

Treasurer Lisa Lombardi said she has copies of an Excel sheet that will help fill in many of the holes and documents more than 75 percent of the spending, and she planned to bring a copy to principal Gerald Schlereth on Monday evening.

Chavez said most of the 248 checks unaccounted for were written on the club’s old account at Wachovia, and the bank fee for a copy of a check is $5, which would cost the booster club about $1,200 to get all the requested copies.

The club issued a 14-page response to the OPS report in which it documented more of the expenditures in question.

“We have made some changes,” Chavez said. “We were $28,000 in debt, but we have that down to $7,000 now. We bought a filing cabinet and keep that in the coaches’ office so we have a central location for all the records, which we did not have before.”

But Chavez said fundraising has been a struggle, despite the most successful season in school history and a 13-1 record.

The team usually raises about $8,000-$10,000 selling cards that provide discounts at local businesses but raised $3,000 this fall. Chavez was hoping to clear off the debt with a fundraising dinner with guest speakers, “but who’s going to go to that now?”

Deposits in the account this school year total $20,141.36. The booster club budget, voted on and approved in January, lists 2010 projected expenses as $96,161.

Chavez added that he has been trying to organize elections for the next board, but no one appears interested.

Where the club is at could be determined this week. OPS administrator Val Walker said Monday that Schlereth, who did not return calls seeking comment for this story, can take further action. He as well as others involved are expected to meet with the OPS this week for further review.

A likely action would be shutting down the booster club and either starting over or having the school run it.

Hawks said she takes no joy in the OPS report or the potential demise of the booster club.

“I’d rather none of this ever happened,” she said. “I could say yes, I feel vindicated, but at what cost?”

Following the paper trail for Countryside High football

The Office of Professional Standards’ audit of Countryside’s booster club spanned three years (July 1, 2007, through Sept. 30, 2010). A few notables:

• Of the 1,331 transactions, 194 were traced to receipts or invoices. The bank statements showed 889 debit purchases, with 141 supported by receipts.

• $27,615.36 in debit transactions is undocumented, which includes tabs at restaurants and purchases at various gas stations.

• Assistant coaches Jeff Davis and Chris Hoban, identified in the report as school board employees, received total payments of $2,800 and $1,800, respectively, even though they were under contract with the district and were on the district’s payroll.

• Cash withdrawals totaling $61,585 were made, with $33,943 of that amount undocumented.

More documentation

The audit notes that 337 debit card transactions totaling $27,615.36 “require documentation in order to determine their propriety.”

Debit card vendor   Number of purchases    Amount

Barnhill Restaurant    1    $42.72
Buffalo Wild Wings    10    $334.23
Dairy Queen    1    $7.36
Dogwater Cafe    31    $3,238.91
Chick-fil-A    3    $31.67
Hooters    1    $44.72
McDonald’s    1    $7.67
Panera Bread    1    $10.79
Panos Kouzina    20    $303.16
Varsity Club    43    $2,916.66
Sonic    2    $43.14
Starbucks    14    $44.65
Sun Yuen Chinese    1    $19.69
TGI Fridays    2    $102.78
Tropical Smoothie    5    $141.58
Shell Oil    54    $2,557.12
Rally    2    $83.29
Hess    7    $250.03
Exxon Mobil    5    $232.40
Curlew Car Wash    1    $10
Cingular    6    $703.70
Bright House Network    32    $5,038.55
AT&T Care Cellular Payment    20    $2,000
AT&T    21    $3,212.74
Office Depot    42    $3,671.47
International Plaza    9    $1,212.78
Apple Store    2    $1,353.55
Totals    337    $27,615.36


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