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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

WLC Superintendent Trevor Ebel resigns his post amid financial probe

WILTON – Superintendent of Schools Trevor Ebel resigned just as the School Board received an investigator’s report into questionable purchases for alcohol, movies and limousines on the district’s credit card.

School Board chairman Geoff Brock announced Ebel’s resignation at the start of Tuesday night’s board meeting.

“The major gatekeeper for policies is the superintendent,” Brock said in response to a question about the financial improprieties. “Obviously, the system failed.”

Ebel, who did not attend Tuesday’s meeting, has been surrounded by controversy for the past month after school officials received an audit that flagged the use of the school district credit card for inappropriate expenses.

Credit card records show $200-a-night hotel rooms and lavish meals charged to the school district credit card at three educational conferences during the 2011 fiscal year. Ebel repaid the school district for some of the charges, according to the audit.

Ebel’s name appears on the credit card, and it was kept in his possession until it was canceled earlier this month. His signature appears on the receipts associated with the credit card, including receipts for $145 and $170 limousine rides during a conference in San Francisco.

Ebel was named in June 2009 to lead SAU 63 and was in the midst of a three-year contract.

Brock said Ebel agreed to work with the district on a consulting basis during the transition to a new superintendent. He will work out of his home office, and be paid per day based on his current salary, including benefits, Brock said.

The agreement is for 30 business days, during which Ebel will work up to 40 hours per week to help the transition process, Brock said.

WLC principal Brian Bagley will continue as acting superintendent through June 30, the end of the fiscal year.

Few of the roughly 35 people who attended Tuesday’s meeting asked questions during public comment period.

Brock said some of the solutions the board has considered going forward involve making it easier for subordinate employees to have contact with the board, and to have a review of current policies and guidelines.

“After the information that’s come up in the newspaper, I think it’s appropriate to set new guidelines,” he said.

Excerpts from credit card statements that appeared a story in Tuesday’s Telegraph show thousands of dollars were spent for three major conference trips in 2010-11 – to Boston, San Francisco and Pittsburgh, Pa. The trips were made by teachers and administrators who spent money on airfare, hotel reservations, meals and rental cars, including $5,000 in room charges at Boston’s Park Plaza Hotel, $3,600 for hotel rooms in San Francisco and meal tabs of up to $894 and valet parking at $44 a day for some of the participants.

The district hired Manchester attorney Dean B. Eggert to look into inappropriate charges on the district’s credit card and to decide whether any employees owe the district money. Eggert turned in his report Monday, the same day as Ebel tendered his resignation letter. Eggert’s report wasn’t immediately available Tuesday night.

Brock declined to comment further on the investigation, but did say the district likely would pursue reimbursement for any unauthorized purchases that haven’t already been paid back.

Brock read Ebel’s letter, in which he asked the board to “accept this letter of my voluntary resignation effective immediately … it’s been my pleasure to serve the board and the people of the district.”

The board voted unanimously to seal the minutes from the non-public session that preceded the regular meeting.

Resident Jeff Schultz asked whether any of Ebel’s decisions involving personnel will be reconsidered under the circumstances. Schultz specifically referred to a food service worker whom Ebel recently terminated. Brock said state law prohibits the board from discussing personnel issues in public, but did say it’s unlikely the termination will be revisited.

According to Ebel’s contract, a three-year agreement with the district that runs from July 1, 2010, to June 30, 2013, he can be terminated “at any time” for either “cause,” “with payment” or “by mutual consent.”

Ebel earned $98,000 per year.

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-6443 or dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com.