School supe innocent, board says


A school superintendent accused of fraud by a clerk in the Education Service District #18 is blameless, according to his school board. The board, in turn, accuses the clerk of illegally recording a phone call, but takes responsibility for not acting on the overpayment.

An ESD clerk incorrectly computed paychecks issued to Superintendent Mark Thielman and discovered the error in early February, according to a statement issued by Wylie Frei, board chairman of Wallowa School District. The clerk subsequently contacted Thielman, who then informed the school board, Frei wrote.

As time wore on, however, the board failed to take action to resolve the overpayment, an oversight for which Frei said Thielman has paid the price.

"I ... we ... take full responsibility," Frei said. "Either I, as a board chairman, or the board, was negligent in not taking action."

But, he added, "I assumed that ESD and Mark had done something to correct the situation ... The board doesn't do payroll. We put our faith in those (ESD) people to take care of us."

In the meantime, the clerk apparently came to the conclusion that Thielman was deliberately avoiding repayment of the money and contacted both the state fraud hotline and state auditors. She also presented Frei with a copy of a complaint and CD containing a recorded phone conversation between her and Thielman.

Thielman said the district's lawyer said the recording was made illegally, but did not consent to let the Chieftain contact the attorney for confirmation.

Thielman repaid the money directly on Aug. 27, Frei said.

The ESD performs, for school districts throughout the county, a number of administrative tasks, including budget and payroll, student services, and assistance with state and federal compliance issues and education requirements.

Ed Jensen, board chairman of ESD, declined to comment on the issue, but added that he strongly disagrees with the information presented by Frei.

Neither Frei nor Jensen named the clerk.

Audit manager Dale Bond, of the Oregon Secretary of State Audits Division said she could not confirm or deny the existence of a fraud complaint. Only if an investigation confirms a fraud allegation would that information be released, she said.

The ethics complaint was on the agenda at Monday's Wallowa School Board meeting but was addressed only briefly.

"We're going through the process right now," said school board member Ed Millar, who chaired the meeting.

"It's a complaint, not a violation," Thielman said. "I trust the process ... I'm confident the outcome will lead to better business for everyone." He noted that the complaint and the process is supposed to be confidential, but that is hard to achieve in a small community.

He added, "We need to let it (the process) work. We have important things in the school to focus on. I just ask for the grace to let the process work."

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