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School chief position eliminated

Action follows Utah Schools for Deaf, Blind audit

SHARE School chief position eliminated

There is no longer a superintendent of the Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind.

The State Board of Education on Friday eliminated the position as part of structural and oversight changes following an unflattering legislative audit of the school's finances. The changes come with no timeline. But they eventually will put current superintendent Lee Robinson out of a job.

"His job is over as superintendent," associate state superintendent Patti Harrington told the Deseret Morning News. "They're opening up a principal's position for which he can apply."

But Robinson would do so with a letter of reprimand in his file, "specifically identifying the impropriety of not clearly and accurately communicating to the various legislative bodies the status of available funds," under state board action Friday.

A handful of USDB teachers praised the board's actions.

"I really give credit to the board for seeing through a lot of smokescreens," said teacher Robyn Allred. "We (now) will able to move forward with a clean slate . . . and get services to kids."

Robinson was in Washington, D.C., Friday afternoon for an educational conference. Messages left at his hotel were not immediately returned.

But in a recent interview, Robinson, who has held the job more than a decade, said he would patiently await the board's recommendation.

"I think I've done everything I can do to see that kids have an appropriate education. I think the budget (practice), in my view, was appropriate because it ensured constancy for programs. I guess it's an honest disagreement whether it was the appropriate thing to do."

A legislative audit of the USDB was issued about a month ago to top legislative leaders, who asked the state school board to recommend personnel changes because of it. The board since has received about two hours of public input and reams of letters and e-mail both in support of Robinson and asking for his removal.

In summer 2002, legislative budgeters used half the USDB's $1.75 million cash surplus to help cover a state budget deficit.

Shortly afterward, USDB reported the budget cut left it with only restricted funds. The school left nine positions unfilled, resulting in increased teacher workloads, higher class sizes and "difficulty providing effective instruction," to the blind and deaf students in the program, the audit stated.

But the audit found the money, in fact, was not restricted, and could have been used to fill those positions. It also stressed that school funds were never misappropriated.

The school was letting its year-end surpluses roll over to the next year's budget, mainly so it would never again go in the red, as it did in the early 1990s, Robinson has said.

The audit recommended the state school board better oversee the school.

The state board approved strategies Friday, including:

Leadership reorganization: The director of at-risk and special education services, currently Karl Wilson, will be the top link of USDB's chain of authority. A principal academic and operations officer would fall under him, and fulfill the current duties of the USDB superintendent. A finance manager will regularly prepare reports to the State Office of Education finance director.

Adding to the school's Institutional Council parents, representatives of the Utah State Office of Rehabilitation, and a non-voting USDB teacher. The council will receive formal budget and personnel training and report to the state school board twice a year on recommended budgets and whether to continue the principal's employment.

E-mail: jtcook@desnews.com