Update: Carbon superintendent arrested; district takes action to fill the gap
George Park, who just recently took over the reins of running Carbon School District from Patsy Bueno in May, was arrested on Friday morning as he returned to the Carbon District office from a meeting at the district bus garage.
Price Police Sergeant Bill Barnes along with two Garfield County Sheriff's Deputies, Kevin Moore and Eric Houston, took Park into custody in front of the school district's maintenance building after checking with employees at the district office about his whereabouts.
Park was arrested on a warrant out of the Sixth District Court in Garfield County that was issued on Aug. 5. The warrant alleges that Park misused public monies while superintendent of the Garfield County School District, the district he worked for for three years before being hired at Carbon.
The charges on the warrant are considered a second degree felony. Bail for Park was set at $10,000 based on the information on the warrant. Friday morning he was transported to Panguitch by those deputies and booked into the Garfield County jail.
That afternoon a special board meeting was held at the Carbon School District office so that board members could discuss the situation. The board decided to put Park on paid administrative leave and named a committee to lead the district until the situation has been worked out.
"This has been one of the most difficult situations we have confronted," said board president Barry Deeter. "I want to point out that Dr. Park has issues that only are between him and Garfield School District and not with Carbon. But that being said while this is taking place we have an absense in our administration and we needed to come up with a plan."
The interim committee that will lead the district consists of Judy Mainord (secondary supervisor), Bob Cox (special education supervisor) and Darrin Lancaster (business manager). They will serve in that capacity until the board deems otherwise.
As to the paid administrative leave, Deeter pointed out that the board based their decision on the facts they presently have.
"At this point we do not exactly know what is going on," he said. "As things change or we have new information there could be another decision on it."
Both decisions got unanimous support from the four board members present. Wayne Woodward was not able to attend the meeting because he was out of town, although he did participate in the executive session discussions concerning the final decisions.
Park left the Garfield District on April 1 after having been on administrative leave from that district since last summer. His contract was to have run through June 30.
Park was associated with various problems in the school district while he was there, but he explained during an interview last spring with the Sun Advocate that much of that had to do a political situation he was placed in when he was hired. He stated that the board who hired him in 2005 had asked him to research and come up with a solution for a special retirement window that had been opened many years ago, but that had never been taken off the books. He alleged that over the years the window (that was only to be open for a short period of time to begin with) had cost the district over $100,000 while it was open. He said he did what the board asked and then implemented a closing of that window in the second year he was there.
Park asserted that that action began his troubles. Employees of the school district were very upset by the change and vowed to replace the board members that had hired him. In the next election, he said, what they promised happened and that most of the members of the board that had supported his actions were replaced by those who had relatives and other relationships with people who were affected by the change.
There was also a problem with finances that emerged, but Park said that was due to practices by the school district's business manager, Justin Baugh, who was hired in 2008.
In a report dated Feb. 10, 2010, Utah state auditors reported that the Garfield County School Board showed "improper and potentially fraudulent payments" totaling more than $88,000 to Baugh.
The audits findings also cited payments of more than $37,000 to Park and some other employees that were deemed "questionable."
Park said that the problems related to these funds were not at all questionable, and that he had performed in practice in the same fashion as many school superintendents do.
"I didn't see every check that went through my business office, but then no superintendent does that," he said in the interview.
There were also some questions about his contract with Garfield, because some board members say they didn't remember the contract allowing the kinds of benefits and dollars that it allowed Park. However the contract was signed by the board president along side Park's signature.
Baugh, 38, was arrested by Garfield County Sheriff deputies in West Jordan in May for alleged wrong-doing in the district. Baugh was charged with three felony counts of misuse of public money, communications fraud, and tampering with a witness. Misuse of public money and communications fraud are second degree felonies and tampering with a witness is a third degree felony. The tampering charge came from allegations that Baugh had directed Garfield employees to shred some evidence that could shed light on the case. By that time Baugh had accepted and was working in the Canyon School District in Salt Lake County in another administrative job.
In the Sun Advocate interview with Park, which took place before Baugh's arrest, Park said he would neither condemn nor support Baugh's situation, and that he had done his best in supervising the business manager.
Before Park's appointment, the Carbon Board did vet a lot of what was going on concerning the situation and, according to board president Barry Deeter at the time, they "felt comfortable" with the explanations and evidence that Park supplied concerning the situation.
How Park ties into the connection with Baugh is not yet clear. The Garfield County Attorney's office did not respond to requests for further information on Friday afternoon.
At the end of the Carbon School Board meeting board member Debbie Blackburn assured district parents and children that the school board will do what is best for the students and the district regardless of the circumstances.
"We all feel that this district will move forward and we will see that our children receive the education they deserve," she stated.