Washington Local’s controversial former Superintendent Patrick Hickey, who won a school board seat in November, was soon after that election made to repay the district more than $1,000 for improper credit card expenditures he made while he led the school system.
The expenditures included gifts for board members, O’Doul’s beers, and more than $300 worth of clothing. It’s neither the first time Mr. Hickey’s expenditures were questioned, nor the first time he or entities he controls were prompted to reimburse taxpayers.
In a Nov. 22 email, an attorney for law firm Bricker and Eckler told Mr. Hickey that he needed to pay the district back by Dec. 5 for the expenses that the district considers improper.
"As a result of recent public records requests, your credit card expenses came to require attention once again and with more detail," attorney Richard Ross wrote. "Issues were discovered with respect to some of those expenses."
In response, Mr. Hickey sent a check dated Dec. 3 to the district for $1,122.96.
Mr. Hickey did not return phone messages Tuesday. Instead he wrote an email to say he “reimbursed the district to help the district move forward.”
Mr. Hickey said all expenses he made were approved by Treasurer Jeff Fouke, except expenses Mr. Hickey made for his license renewal and a background check for his license renewal.
Mr. Fouke, however, challenged that assertion. He pointed to public documents that show he denied Mr. Hickey’s expenditures on personal items. Mr. Hickey was then given a credit card — the assistant superintendent reviewed those purchases — and began making personal expenditures on the credit card.
Mr. Hickey said he reimbursed the district for those expenses after they were disallowed.
He added the O’Douls — which he described as “non-alcoholic malt beverages” — were purchased at conferences, and it’s normal for the district to reimburse such purchases. Mr. Hickey said sportswear purchases he made were for Whitmer High gear, which he wears to Whitmer events, and the other expenses were for board members’ birthdays in recognition of their service.
Attempts to reach WLS Superintendent Susan Hayward on Tuesday were unsuccessful.
Disputes about Mr. Hickey’s use of public funds while he was superintendent are long-running, but often overshadowed by other allegations of misbehavior.
Mr. Hickey resigned as superintendent of Washington Local Schools in December, 2015, shortly before school board officials could consider a resolution to fire him because of 37 charges compiled by a board-hired law firm. Those charges included allegations he failed to inform the district that he left Addison Community Schools in Addison, Mich. in 1990 after accusations surfaced that he had inappropriate relationships with students.
He was placed on administrative leave twice in 2015 before he resigned. The first leave stemmed from a district investigation into an informal complaint by a husband and wife — both teachers in the district — who claimed Mr. Hickey harassed them after an alleged affair between the wife and Mr. Hickey ended.
The 37 charges also included allegations Mr. Hickey “submitted requests for reimbursements that were not for public purposes or were not authorized to be reimbursed.”
A public records request for all documents used by Bricker and Eckler to create the charging document garnered a back-and-forth between Mr. Hickey and Mr. Fouke over reimbursement requests by the then-superintendent.
The list of questioned expenses included gifts for board members and others, as well as reimbursements for donations Mr. Hickey made to district programs. For example, he tried to be reimbursed for $20 worth of parafin wax through the district's cosmetology program.
"While it is robbing Peter to pay Paul it does a ton for esprit de corp and my commitment to their work," he wrote of requesting public funds to support district programs.
He also requested a $70 reimbursement for donations made to a pancake breakfast.
"Although often enjoyable, it is work and is always interrupted by questions, concerns, input from the public, staff, and kids," he said of the community and district events he attended as superintendent.
Mr. Hickey’s use of public funds to pay for skydiving sessions with a special needs student and district staff was also questioned. He later said publicly during the campaign that he felt the expenditure was proper, but paid the district back when questioned.
A $2,231.50 check dated Aug. 26, 2014, to the district did not come from Mr. Hickey himself, but from the Jeanne Hickey Memorial Fund, which was created in memory of one of Mr. Hickey’s sisters, who was killed by a drunken driver on the Anthony Wayne Trail in the 1970s when she was 15. Mr. Hickey is listed as the sole trustee for the foundation in tax records.
Major contributions to the fund have come from another of Mr. Hickey’s sisters, who owns and operates a preschool network in Chicago.
The Washington Local school board meets Wednesday evening while the current and impending board members consider how to handle bans of Mr. Hickey’s presence on district property.
His separation agreement limits his access to district property for events other than those related to his children, although the superintendent or board president can waive that restriction. The board subsequently banned him from all district property after an altercation between Mr. Hickey and officials at a basketball game.
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