The county Sheriff’s Department recently provided what The Signal has been asking from the Hart school district since April – confirmation that an investigation has been opened into allegations of misuse of booster club funds at Valencia High School.
If this sounds troublesomely familiar, you’re not imagining it. Around this time in 2014, the same complaint was leveled against Jared Snyder, then-coach of the Valencia High baseball team and keeper of the school baseball booster club’s funds.
Sheriff’s Detective Mike Marino reported June 16 that a softball booster club parent lodged the misuse-of-funds complaint this time, emphasizing the probe is “in the preliminary investigating phase.”
For nearly two months The Signal asked the William S. Hart Union High School District to confirm the complaint, but no straight answer was forthcoming. “The district does not comment on personnel-related items” was the official word from district spokesman Dave Caldwell.
Felony embezzlement charges were brought against Snyder in the 2014 case, and the former coach eventually pleaded guilty to one count of felony grand theft. He is awaiting sentencing.
Don’t think of high school booster club money as pocket change; some clubs have $100,000 or more in their accounts. Valencia High’s baseball boosters, called the Diamond Club, collected an estimated $34,000-$38,000 at a single fundraiser in 2014.
The Hart district’s policy at that time was that booster clubs could hold their funds in private bank accounts, accounts managed by the school ASB, or as 501(c)(3) nonprofits. Snyder held the Diamond Club funds in a bank account in care of himself – and clearly abused that trust.
“The district has been reviewing these different mechanisms (for funding booster clubs) and is working to develop a preferred approach that allows for best practices, including checks and balances and oversight,” then-Hart district spokeswoman Gail Pinsker said after Snyder’s arrest.
“Best practices” were not that hard to figure out, even in 2014.
“I was talking to one of our attorneys here who told me most booster clubs are run properly because they are tax-exempt 501(c)(3)s,” Denise Azi, a spokeswoman for the Franchise Tax Board, said during a 2014 interview with The Signal. “You wouldn’t want fundraising money to be considered taxable income.”
The Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District had already figured out “best practices” before Snyder’s arrest in 2014. It had a 55-page booklet posted online providing parents with reasons to choose the nonprofit option and step-by-step guidelines for becoming a 501(c)(3).
“(An) increased need for parental contributions generates a higher level of accountability for the coach/adviser, school and booster club officers,” the booklet advises.
Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District officials interviewed by The Signal were proud of the work they had done to provide their parents, students and staff with the tools for maximum accountability in handling booster club funds.
Had Hart district officials, in their diligent quest for best practices, asked if they could adopt those policies with a line crediting the Orange County school district, we suspect the OC administrators y would have immediately agreed.
But no booster club “best practices” can be found on the Hart district website three years after the Snyder case broke. Asked for a written copy of the district’s policy, Caldwell said he was told to inform questioners that booster clubs can form a nonprofit or bank through the campus ASG. He emphasized the district considers clubs the schools’ responsibility, not the district’s.
Rather than offering leadership at a district-wide level to a potential district-wide problem, Hart points figures back to its schools and says, “They did it.”
And when the lack of leadership likely contributes to a repeat allegation of misused booster club funds – funds raised by parents who think they’re investing in their children’s education, not supporting a crooked coach – that district refuses to cooperate with the media whose job is to inform parents about what’s going on in public schools.
The Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District is concerned with accountability and openness. Hart appears to be more concerned with laying blame elsewhere and hiding allegations of potential felony crime on campus.
Parents and students are the ones paying the price.