Florida Keys News
Saturday, May 25, 2013
School's finance director fired for 'bad judgment'
Let boyfriend take cash from Treasure Village Montessori safe, but audit is clean

The night of April 25, Treasure Village Montessori School Financial Director Jodi Yeager gave the key to the school building, as well as the combination to its safe, to her longtime boyfriend Joseph Colgan.

Theft was never part of the plan, Yeager said in a Citizen interview Thursday. Rather, Colgan was merely taking $460 from the safe at the Islamorada-based school so he could have cash when he caught a flight early that morning. Yeager then planned to replace the money when she arrived at work a few hours later, using funds from a check of Colgan's that she hadn't managed to cash the day before.

"Was it a dumb thing? For sure," she said. "Was it a crime? I guess in some eyes. Was it my intention to steal? Certainly not. Honestly, it was just to save time."

The move ended up costing Yeager her job.

On Wednesday, Treasure Village Principal Kelly Astin Wix informed the school's board that she had fired Yeager with an effective date of May 15.

School officials, while declining to discuss any details of the incident, said Yeager was dismissed for "bad judgment."

"The decisions that were made were based on actions that happened and it's a difficult place to be," Jill Kost, the board's vice chair, said at the meeting.

Astin Wix's announcement came on the same evening that CPA Steven Pribramsky, a former Monroe County School District Board member, informed the Treasure Village board that a forensic audit had not revealed any malfeasance on Yeager's part.

The board engaged Pribramsky's firm to perform the audit at an emergency meeting on April 29, shortly after Colgan reportedly took the cash from the safe. In addition to a more general review of the books dating back to July 2012, Pribramsky was charged with searching for any disbursements to Yeager; reviewing the student account balances of Yeager's two children who attend the school; and looking for any potential payments to Colgan, or his company, Simplus Inc.

Pribramsky also reviewed Treasure Village's debit and credit card payments.

"We didn't find anything that was an irregularity, or certainly nothing that would rise to the level of fraud," he told the board.

In her Citizen interview, Yeager explained that on the afternoon before Colgan took the cash from the safe, there had been a mix-up with a Treasure Village field trip to Key West. A child had been left at the school, Yeager said, so she drove the student about 19 miles south, to Mile Marker 68, to meet up with the waiting bus. In the commotion, she forgot to take Colgan's $460 check to the bank.

The following day, about 4:15 a.m., he stopped at the school to take the cash that Yeager says she planned to replace a few hours later. While there, Colgan encountered the cleaning crew members, who reported the incident to the school administration.

Treasure Village officials didn't report the matter to the Monroe County Sheriff's Office, according to MCSO spokeswoman Becky Herrin. But Astin Wix did put Yeager on leave pending the audit results.

Yeager said she had hoped that when the probe revealed no improprieties, she'd be allowed back to work.

But that's not what happened.

"They had zero tolerance for me on this," she said. "I was offered no explanation."

Astin Wix didn't respond to phone calls from The Citizen for this story. But in a written statement on the Yeager dismissal, she said that as employees of a public institution, Treasure Village staff members are charged with protecting taxpayer assets.

"That is a huge responsibility and one I take very seriously," Astin Wix wrote.

She emphasized, however, that letting Yeager go was difficult.

"I wish we were a private entity sometimes, because that would allow me to make decisions based upon many factors, including excellent work history, strong work ethic, excellence in methodology and accomplishments, and allow me to overlook instances of bad judgment because I would not be beholden to taxpayers, but an owner," Astin Wix wrote.

Treasure Village is a public charter school.

Wix has been with Treasure Village since its inception 16 years ago. She is stepping down as principal at the end of the school year.



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