An internal auditor with the DeKalb County School System raised questions about a former district principal’s use of school dollars to buy thousands of dollars worth of books the principal had written, a district official said.
The unnamed auditor raised questions about Yvonne Sanders-Butler, a roving principal, after it was discovered she had profited off the sales of her books to county public schools. Sanders-Butler sold more than $63,000 worth of her health and nutrition books to the district between 2002 and 2009.
Alice Thompson, the district’s chief of staff, responded to a series of written questions from The Champion Newspaper regarding the book sales scandal, which has led to the firing of two principals, including Sanders-Butler, and the demotion of two other officials. She did not say when the auditor raised questions, but they led to a recommendation to revoke Sanders-Butler’s purchasing card – a step that was never taken, Thompson said.
This new piece of information has been turned over to the Georgia Professional Standards Commission and the DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office for further review. The commission investigates educational malfeasance.
The district’s investigation into the sales recently concluded after a series of articles in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution revealed the sales.
Sanders-Butler could not be reached for comment, but she told the Journal-Constitution in an Aug. 15 story that district Chief Financial Officer Marcus Turk approached her in 2007, saying her book sales “did not look right.” Nothing else happened, however, she told the newspaper. Thompson did not respond to questions regarding the validity of that claim.
Sanders-Butler and her sister, Rainbow Elementary School Principal Annette S. Roberts, have been fired and will be subject to fair dismissal hearings that will uphold or reverse the district’s dismissal of them. Roberts was fired after she declined a demotion to assistant principal. District officials said she purchased $14,184 worth of copies of her sister’s books for her school, Thompson said.
The titles of Sanders-Butler’s books are Naturally Yours and More Gourmet Desserts, Desserts Lovers’ Choice and Healthy Kids, Smart Kids. Over the course of her writing career, Sanders-Butler’s has been a public advocate for elimination of sugar from students’ diets, including the removal of soda machines from school grounds. She received coverage from several national media outlets, including Fox News and CNN.
Both remain on paid suspension until their cases are adjudicated, Thompson said.
Two other district officials, former Assistant Superintendent Ralph Simpson and Miller Grove High School Principal Selina Carol Thedford, were demoted to assistant principals and had their salaries cut. Simpson sold $15,260 worth of his autobiography, From Remedial to Remarkable, to six county public schools. Thedford purchased nearly $10,000 of those for her school.
Former Assistant Superintendent Lonnie Edwards sold $12,745 worth of copies of his own book detailing his experiences helping a disabled student. He is now a superintendent in Jackson, Miss., Thompson said, and sold more than $3,000 worth of copies of the same book to district schools after he left.
All told, the school officials sold nearly $100,000 worth of books to the district over several years. District principals are generally allowed to make school purchases of up to $5,000, and the books were sold to the district in increments less than $5,000, Thompson said.
The district will investigate any additional sales claims that come to light but said it would be difficult to scour records in search of improper sales because the officials did not sell the schools the books under their own names but rather the name of the company that published the books (often a company owned by the school official). Interim Superintendent Ramona Tyson recommended a policy change to the board of education that would prohibit employees from selling goods and services to the district, Thompson said.