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Kelly rebukes director of WTI

School Superintendent Pete Kelly has reprimanded Steve Kinard, director of the Withlacoochee Technical Institute, for several policy violations that occurred on Kinard's watch.

"It is apparent that there were violations of existing procedures specific to WTI. I am concerned that you were aware of these violations or failed to understand that procedures were not being followed by WTI personnel," Kelly wrote in a two-page letter to Kinard that the school system made public Monday.

The violations concern WTI's work-order system, several cases in which the vocational school extended credit to people, and examples of staff members' failing to collect deposits on large jobs performed by students in the school's auto shops.

In his letter, Kelly also directed Kinard to follow all the recommendations included in recent school audits, and to implement procedural recommendations that School Board attorney Richard "Spike" Fitzpatrick has offered. (See related story, Page 5.)

The reprimand closes the case on a collection of problems that came to light in March, when the Citrus Times published a series of stories about WTI.

A study of its spending practices revealed that the school's auto shops regularly repaired vehicles that belonged to Kinard's friends _ even thoughthe shops were supposed to primarily use vehicles of employees and students.

The stories also raised questions about billing practices in the shops and the donation of supplies that benefited shop users rather than the school.

The stories also turned up concerns that money from the school's general fund was used to pay for a seafood dinner and other meals for school administrators and staff.

In his letter, Kelly noted that auto shop customers who have more than $200 worth of work done are required to pay half the cost before work begins, and the balance before the vehicle is released.

But school officials allowed one of Kinard's friends, Bill Vitter, to pay $2,239 for a job over time, and allowed him to pick up the vehicle before the bill was paid in full.

"It is clear that you approved an extension of credit to a member of the general public in direct violation of the procedure and failed to require your employees to demand strict compliance with the procedure requiring deposit prior to commencement of work," Kelly wrote.

In his eight-page letter to Kelly summarizing the findings, Fitzpatrick also criticized that episode.

"The extension of credit for work performed becomes more troubling in the case of William Vitter, inasmuch as the investigation has determined that Mr. Vitter and the director of WTI have been personal friends for many years," Fitzpatrick wrote.

Kelly also reprimanded Kinard for allowing a $500 loan of school money to an employee who was involved in a temporary duty assignment.

"The fact that the money was repaid does not excuse the violation," Kelly wrote.

"As an administrator," Kelly wrote, "you are responsible for maintaining a positive image of the school and its programs."

Fitzpatrick noted that recent audits at the school uncovered needed changes in spending procedures.

"There does not appear to be any indication of intentional violation of the internal account rules, although it is clear that better judgment could have been used in connection with various purchases," Fitzpatrick wrote.

Kelly concluded his reprimand by promising to "closely monitor" the school's administration.

Kinard refused to comment on the reprimand Monday. However, in a response to Kelly dated Oct. 28, Kinard wrote that he always complied with policies of the board, the school and the state.

"This is evidenced by the fact that as shortcomings have been identified, I have always acted to correct them," Kinard wrote. He said he was working to change procedures "before the tabloid journalism and subsequent investigations."

In his reprimand, Kelly told Kinard: "In your zeal to help students and staff and provide a valuable service to the community, you did not follow some of WTI's procedures as they pertain to work orders. You have written procedures and I expect your strict adherence to them."

Kinard responded: "I think it should be noted that these procedures are WTI operational procedures and that it is therefore my responsibility to adjust them as situations change.

"I have always done this in the past when I believed that the students' best interest will benefit from a change. I hope that we will never reach a situation in which the rules will take precedence over the interest of students and our community."

Kinard also notes that he believes the recent internal audit of the school's books "exonerated the staff of this institution as far as the innuendoes and accusations brought forth by certain media."

The internal audits, done for the past two fiscal years, do note that the overall record keeping of the school is excellent. But they also outlined a variety of deficiencies including numerous problems in the work order system for the school's auto shops.

Because Kelly worked for Kinard for a decade before he became school superintendent, Kelly sought independent investigation into the school's operations.

The audits, as well as an investigation by Assistant Superintendent Tom Maher and a review by Fitzpatrick, were pulled together to help Kelly reach his conclusions.

Kelly and Fitzpatrick stated in their letters that the reprimand is based on Kinard's successful history.

Fitzpatrick notes that while seeking Kinard's dismissal was one of Kelly's options, "based upon my review of the administrator's personnel file, the history of success at WTI and the willingness to correct deficiencies and modify procedures, it is my opinion that dismissal may be difficult to sustain."

Kelly was out of the county and could not be reached for comment Monday. Last week he referred all questions about the WTI case to Maher.

Maher would not comment or answer questions. Instead, he issued a statement saying, "This case is now closed."