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School district will probe WTI, head

The Citrus County School District has launched an investigation into operations at Withlacoochee Technical Institute and Steve Kinard, its director, the district's personnel director said Monday.

The probe follows a report in Sunday's Citrus Times about continuing problems at the school one year after the newspaper revealed policy violations and other troubles with the school's operation.

On Monday, a district investigator questioned Kinard on whether he has implemented the changes that he was directed to make last year. That interview was arranged after Superintendent Pete Kelly told staff to conduct a six-month review of the school's progress. He made that request just hours after the Times told him two weeks ago that problems at the school have continued.

When Monday's interview with Kinard ended, the district opened its own investigation into Kinard and WTI's operations, said personnel director Sam Stiteler.

"The superintendent had asked my department to do a six-month review of WTI, and if there were any violations of what Mr. Kinard had been told to do, then it would become an investigation," Stiteler said. "It is now an investigation."

The investigation will review the practices and policies Kinard was told to change last year after the first Times report. An investigation by Assistant Superintendent Tom Maher and an auditor confirmed the Times' findings of questionable spending practices at the school and problems with procedures in the WTI industrial shops.

The investigation also will focus on new information about WTI's operations revealed in stories published in Sunday's Citrus Times, Stiteler said.

Those stories revealed that Kinard continued to extend credit to those using the auto shops at the school, accepted repeat business by the same individuals in the shop and failed to justify the educational value of the work.

Those were all problems that he was told to fix.

But the stories also detailed that two out of every three jobs performed at the school's auto shops were undocumented. Parts were purchased with cash for those customers, violating the school's policies. Those jobs were confirmed using records from a local vendor that supplied parts to the school.

Loaded guns also were found in at least two vehicles brought into the shop for work, which is done by the students.

Kinard has declined to talk to the Times about his school's operations.

Kelly did not return phone calls left at his office Monday.

School board members, however, did comment on the newspaper's reports.

"I think that if what you found is correct, then I certainly believe that corrective action is needed," said School Board Chairman Carl Hansen. "I have spoken to Mr. Kelly about it and I know he will investigate it further. He is as concerned as I am."

Hansen noted that because the board may have to sit in judgment in the case, he couldn't say much about the specifics of the recent revelations. "We're all pretty much of the same mind, that when it comes to the district's resources, we've got to be straightforward and honest."

"I think it would probably be premature for me to react," said board member Patience Nave. "It seems to me that many of the things harken back to another time, but I don't know what the whole situation is."

She noted that she wasn't sure whether Keith Estep, the former auto mechanics instructor at the school who spoke up about WTI's practice of doing work without documentation, had left the district in good standing or if there had been some disagreement.

"I'm going to reserve my decision until I know a little bit more," Nave said.

Board member Sheila Whitelaw said she found the latest information frustrating.

"In light of the situations that have occurred recently, I'm disappointed that this reflects a total disregard for School Board policy and rules and the authority that exists in the board."

With Kelly's decision last week not to rehire Tom Maher for the new school year, apparently in reaction to Maher not agreeing with Kelly's recent reorganization initiative, Whitelaw said she wondered if the same standard would be applied if Kinard was shown to be at fault.

"I hope that this situation with Mr. Kinard is looked upon with the same severity as the lack of loyalty of the second in command," she said.

"If you can get fired for disagreeing with an idea," she said, "what happens to you if you disobey a direct order?"