Berwick Elementary principal reassigned

By JEAN L. KAESS

Former Berwick Elementary Principal Steve Russo has been moved again, this time from the Central Office Complex to Franklin Junior High School.

The changes in his employment come in the wake of a criminal investigation into “suspected misappropriation” of about $59,000 at Berwick Elementary School.

Individuals with access to the money in a school activity fund included Russo, secretary Penny Crappell and acting Principal Debbie Tompkins.

Tompkins remains at the school where she was promoted from assistant principal to her current position.

Under state law, such school fund accounts must be maintained as a single bank account on which checks may be drawn. Those checks must be signed by the principal and a second person from a list of approved signatories.

Crappell has been on sabbatical for a medical condition since mid-May, according to Superintendent Donald Aguillard.

Crappell has attended meetings in her role as a Berwick town councilwoman in the interim but would not comment after the most recent council meeting Tuesday.

Aguillard created a position for Russo at the Central Office Complex July 19 and promoted Tompkins to acting principal.

A permanent principal is expected to be named at the September St. Mary Parish School Board meeting.

Russo was set to be an instructional supervisor, in a position “commensurate with the principal job title,” Aguillard said.

However, Russo moved to FJHS Wednesday where he works as a self-contained special education teacher.

Aguillard said Russo was “involuntarily transferred from his principal position at BES. As such, he will be compensated at his previous principal grade.”

Elementary principals make in the range of 1.34 to 1.38 times what a teacher with the same number of years’ experience makes. Supervisors are indexed at 1.52 times a teacher with the identical years’ experience.

The audit exposing the alleged misappropriation was triggered by a telephone call making allegations about financial practices regarding school activity funds.

The school system chose three elementary schools at random, one in each maintenance district, to audit as a result of that call Aguillard said.

State Police Troop I Public Information Officer Stephen Hammons would not comment Thursday about the criminal investigation.

St. Mary Now & Franklin Banner-Tribune

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