Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Stealing, Embezzlement Charges Brought Against Former Rockwood Science Head in Missouri

FROM http://eureka-wildwood.patch.com/ -

Michael Szydlowski, who previously led the Rockwood School District science department, was charged with allegedly stealing district-owned items and embezzling a significant sum of cash before he left the district's employment last June.

A former Rockwood School District leader, Michael Szydlowski, was set for a jury trial Monday morning in the St. Louis County Circuit Court in Clayton, due to charges of allegedly stealing district property prior to leaving Rockwood to assume a new job in Columbia Public Schools in Columbia, MO.

The situation started last summer after Szydlowski's last day of employment with Rockwood, June 30. Questionable charges and declines on the district's purchasing card for the science department caught the attention of Rockwood's Director of Finance K. Scott Tate. He and Kelvin McMillan, assistant superintendent of human resources, contacted police for assistance with what they stated they believed to be "illegal use" concerning the card.
Eureka Police Department reports indicate a $2,500 charge was attemped on Szydlowski's last day of Rockwood employment to Overstock.com, but was declined. A similar $2,000 attempted charge to Target also was declined that day. Lesser attempted charges, such as for a satellite radio subscription, also were cited. The charges were declined due to invalid security code entries after the card was returned to the district.
Eureka-Wildwood Patch attended what was supposed to be the trial starting at 9:30 a.m. Monday, however neither set of attorneys were present when Judge Lawrence Permuyter Jr. concluded his docket and adjourned at approximately 11:15 a.m. Permuyter told Patch he assumed the case would be continued, or that the parties must have reached some sort of settlement.
Eureka city attorney Kathy Butler is prosecuting the case. Attorney William Goldstein of Clayton is representing Szydlowski. Calls to both attorneys Monday to inquire about the case's official status were not yet returned at the time of publishing.
The Columbia Public Schools online staff directory indicate Szydlowski is presently a K-12 science coordinator for the district.

Szydlowski's Rockwood Background:

Szydlowski joined Rockwood a few years ago to overhaul the district's elementary science curriculum.
One of his most notable changes and contributions to the district was the Rockwood mobile science lab, which at the time reportedly was the only one in Missouri owned by a school district. Click here for a video about the lab. It enabled Rockwood's 9,700 students in kindergarten through fifth grade at the district's 19 elementary schools to visit it four times a year.
The mobile lab, which enamored many parents and teachers, was billed as a way to save the district money. It moved students from textbooks into its 11 hands-on workstations.
At the time, district spokespeople said its science textbooks were replaced every six years, costing $610,000 to buy new ones. Overall, the district saved $381,000 by overhauling its curriculum through the mobile lab, as reported in allBusiness.
However, this school year, the mobile lab is not in use, due to the district's budget challenges. Rockwood board of education directors told Patch that not all of the year-to-year maintenance costs for the mobile lab program were revealed at the time Szydlowski presented a case to invest in it.
Students and parents also may remember that Szydlowski was responsible for transferring the school building-centric approach to elementary science fairs to a St. Louis regional program. The switch decreased the number of individual students doing science fair projects, but promoted group-based projects at an annual, districtwide science night.

The Charges:

According to paperwork filed against Szydlowski Dec. 20, 2010, through the St. Louis County Municipal Division, Eureka's prosecutor Butler identified the following complaint charges, citing he "appropriated the property of the Rockwood School District without the consent or knowledge of the district by charging" the following:
•$13.65 on the district's credit card on March 11, 2010, to mail documents for seeking employment outside the district
•$176.95 on the same credit card for cordless drills and Quickfire Kits, and then allegedy taking them and all the following items after he left Rockwood's employment June 30
•$162.34 for a Panasonic portable DVD player
•$110 for a GPS device
•$199.99 for a version of Adobe Photoshop
•$454.14 for a GPS device used on a trip that occurred June 9-17, 2010

Missing District Science Inventory:

According to Eureka police reports, questions regarding the credit card purchases led to an online investigation of the UMB Bank database. Tate closed the actual card account, which was shared by four other district employees besides Szydlowski. Based on receipts and the district's financial accounting process, there were no other discrepancies with the other four card users, stated the police report.
However, the card process led to inventorying Rockwood's science items—leaving approximately $35,000 worth of items missing from the district's possession, indicated the police report.
Twenty days after leaving Rockwood, the police report indicated Szydlowski emailed district representatives on July 20, writing that he had found "several items that belonged to the district." The district's response was that the items had to be returned to the district by July 23.
The police report stated that Szydlowski visited Rockwood headquarters on July 21 to return "approximately $1,000 of property" and met with former Rockwood Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction Carrie Luttrell, who informed him of the "misuse of district funds and purchasing card."
According to the report, he was given an opportunity to respond in a five-hour meeting, at which time he admitted to taking a list of specified district items, some of which were used at his home when he lived within the Rockwood School District. He also admitted to subscribing to certain memberships and extending two teacher trips, which cost the district additional funds.
Luttrell since left Rockwood this summer to join the Parkway School District as principal of Shenandoah Elementary in Chesterfield.

The report said Szydlowski indicated at the meeting he would like to make restitution to the district and "hoped the district would not choose to prosecute him."

Rockwood board of education directors then were contacted after the meeting, according to the police report, and informed of "statutes of the fraud." They then filed a complaint with Eureka police.

Legal Developments:

According to St. Louis County court documents, a certification hearing for this matter was scheduled for March 4, 2011. The hearing was continued and rescheduled for May 12, at which time a jury trial was scheduled for July 11. Then the case was continued until this Monday.

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