3/9/08

Teaching marketing, union-style

A Yuma High School marketing teacher is facing dismissal for what district officials term "unprofessional and insubordinate conduct" surrounding a school club's finances. Mark Rau, a YHS marketing teacher and the former adviser to the school's Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA), is facing Yuma Union High School district allegations of financial irregularity and inappropriate conduct involving funds raised by the club and the YHS student store, the Cell Block.

DECA is a student organization that encourages student participation in marketing competitions and activities. YHS' DECA group managed the Cell Block under faculty supervision, which included Rau.

Rau is fighting the allegations, according to his attorney, John Meerchaum of the law firm Meerchaum and Meyer. Rau contends he can account for all finances in question and did not violate any policies he was aware of at the time.

Meerchaum said the hearing would be held over a three-day period next week: Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. It will take place at the YUHSD office board room before a hearing officer. The hearing was scheduled at Rau's request.

Rau was placed on administrative leave in September, but Meerchaum said the teacher was not made aware of the district's charges against him until December.

"It involves accounting issues to club monies," Meerchaum said. "He was accused of not following the rules ... There have been no claims of theft or embezzlement."

No criminal charges have been filed at this time. YUHSD Superintendent Toni Badone said it was currently an internal matter being dealt with by the district.

She would not comment on the allegations against Rau. "It's a personnel matter. I can't comment in any way, shape or form," Badone told The Sun on Friday.

Notice of intent to dismiss

Rau and Meerchaum provided The Sun with a copy of the notice of intent to dismiss, which was sent to Rau by YUHSD.

According to the district's notice, the recommendation to terminate is based on "unprofessional conduct, numerous violations of district policies and the club advisor handbook, state administrative rules and regulations, breach of conduct, breach of Club Sponsor Agreement, and insubordination."

Specific incidents cited by the notice include:

-Falsification of financial records and failure to follow required internal procedures regarding approval of purchases for the Cell Block: The notice accuses Rau of fabricating requisition forms in the amount of $12,000 to Caliber, a vendor that supplied items to the store.

The notice said Caliber representatives confirmed to the district that they would meet with Rau at the beginning of the fiscal year and determine approximately what would be purchased. Individual purchase orders would then be submitted against the $12,000 amount, rather than the district receiving $12,000 worth of merchandise in a bulk purchase.

Rau claims he had reviewed this purchasing method and understood it did not violate any policies.

The notice also claims false cash collection reports were submitted for an inaccurate amount of food and water sold at the student store on Aug. 30.

-Mishandling of funds and deposits: The notice claims six checks totaling $913 for commissions on YHS "Criminal" merchandise sold by Wal-Mart were deposited into an account at AEA Federal Credit Union rather than the auxiliary account for the Cell Block.

Rau claims he has receipts and records of "every penny obtained by the Wal-Mart sales" going directly to purchase items for DECA and the Cell Block.

-Numerous unauthorized transactions: The district claims reviews of records have indicated the unauthorized sale of items such as hats, food and bottled water by DECA and the Cell Block. Records by students of purchases were supposedly improperly kept in some cases.

Rau claims these sales were done based on an understanding of procedures he thought he had with the district and claims he can account for all cash collected.

-Improper procedures with cash: Rau kept envelopes holding cash for the DECA club in his classroom, which the district claims is a violation of money-handling procedures.

Rau claims this is common procedure done by most clubs at least before November 2007.

-Conflict of interest: The district also claims Rau tried to enter into an agreement to sell Criminal-insignia jeans supplied by JNY Inc. - a company Rau allegedly had a business relationship with.

Rau said he never told anyone he was a consultant for JNY but did say that if the sale of jeans was a success, he might retire as a teacher and become a sales representative. Rau said he made these statements to his superiors at YHS and was never told it was inappropriate.

Meerchaum said these types of "accounting issues" and money handling are not uncommon in school clubs run by students or individual faculty advisers. In a statement prepared by his attorney, Rau claims neither he nor any other club adviser at YHS was made aware of these policies before he was placed on leave.

Former 'educator of the year'

"We've got a highly respected teacher who's done wonders with a lot of students who may not have finished high school ... Yuma High DECA was one of the better if not the best in the state of Arizona," Meerchaum said.

Rau was voted 2005-2006 Outstanding Educator of the Year this summer by his peers in the Arizona Marketing Educators, according to previous reports in The Sun.

During his time as adviser, YHS DECA won numerous awards in state and national competitions. Their achievements received recognition on a segment of NBC's "Today Show" and "Good Morning America" in 2005.

A Yuma student, then-senior Mick Magin, was elected president of the state DECA organization 2005 when Rau was leading DECA at YHS. This was the first time a Yuma student had garnered this honor. Mick Magin is the son of Jeff Magin, YHS principal.

Meanwhile, the Arizona Office of the Auditor General is conducting an investigation into "possible financial irregularities" at YHS. No one at the auditor general's office or YUHSD will confirm or deny if this investigation is linked to Rau or the Cell Block.

The investigation has been under way since October. It was started at the request of the district, according to Jeff Larson, general counsel for the auditor general.

Larson said the investigation remains ongoing, adding it is not unusual for an audit to take months to complete. It involves obtaining and reviewing extensive records and documentation.

"Nothing has changed. We're still investigating," Larson told The Sun on Friday.

He could not provide any information on exactly what kind of improprieties they were examining, the amount of money in question or the identities of any people of interest in the investigation.

He said a report would be made available to the public when the probe was finished but he could not provide any indication of when that would be.

(yumasun.com)

1 comment:

Stephen said...

Mark Rau is one of the most effective educators in the Yuma community. The accusations of “unprofessional and insubordinate conduct” surprise me since this extraordinary individual has given extra time and money out his own pocket to ensure the success of the many thousands of students he has mentored.

Mark Rau has positively influenced our personal lives by guiding our foreign exchange student from Scotland through the countless academic competitions allowing her a unique understanding of the best that this country has to offer – a tremendous public education, conducted by a caring professional educator. That experience was so positive that our daughter also decided to join the marketing program and DECA the following year and is now contemplating a career in agricultural business.

I can’t imagine Mr. Rau intentionally mismanaging school and club finances. Mr. Rau annually supervises 130 students in DECA, 50 student employees running the student store handling more than $30,000 per year in sales. I can attest to his personal expenditures out of his pocket to help provide positive educational experiences for dozens of students. I can also attest to his time commitments meeting students at all hours of the day and night to attend DECA functions or to help students with the many personal emergencies that are all too common in high school. In our four years of DECA experiences, I have seen Mr. Rau at school functions over a dozen times between the hours of midnight and 3 a.m., and we carpooled with other parents!

I understand that Mr. Rau is also accused of insubordination. Insubordination could be interpreted as failure or refusal to recognize or submit to the authority of a superior. This charge must be in an area other than teaching or dedication to students, because in these areas Mr. Rau has no superiors.

I believe Mr. Mark Rau to be a man of integrity that has given much to provide a great education to our most precious resource – our children!

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