Why HS Coaches Who Mismanaged Funds Weren't Fired

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Naples Daily News (Florida)


Jeff Hanlon and Marjorie Hanlon remain Lee County School District employees following an investigation that determined the former Estero High football coach and his wife mismanaged over $9,000 associated with the football and booster programs.

The district decided against pursuing termination for the Hanlons, citing in part a greater cost to the taxpayers than the amount of money taken, district spokeswoman Lauren Stillwell said in a statement. As annual contract employees whether they remain in the district will be decided in May and June when re-appointments and non-reappointments occur pursuant to collective bargaining and Florida law.

"There was no guarantee the case would result in termination, or that the (Wildcat) Booster Club would receive its money back," Stillwell said.

Stillwell said if an employee is terminated and decides to contest it could take approximately 180 days to complete a hearing by the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings. She added the conservative cost estimate for a judge and a court reporter is between $5,000 and $8,000 with extra staff and transcripts possibly adding thousands more.

Depending on the outcome of the case, the employee has the ability to appeal to the Second District Court of Appeals, adding to costs, Stillwell said.

"I want to make sure you know that the district will never shy away from pursuing termination because of the costs and the time if it is in the best interest of the students and the district," Stillwell said.

Jeff Hanlon, who was in his third season coaching the Wildcats, was reassigned to Fort Myers Middle Academy after serving a three-day suspension in December. He also received an indefinite restriction from coaching in the district and a prohibition of handling money for the district.

Marjorie Hanlon, the former Estero boys track and field coach and a teacher leader at the school, has been reassigned to Bonita Middle School.

The Hanlons reimbursed thousands of dollars in fundraising money to the school as part of an agreement in which the district wouldn't turn the matter over to law enforcement.

"These are good people who are being made out to be thieves and are being dragged through the mud," said Mark Castellano, president of the Teachers Association of Lee County, which has represented the Hanlons throughout the process. "This is all a result of not having a definitive process in place to handle (booster club funds)."

The investigation found Jeff Hanlon, who didn't return messages seeking comment, maintained no records of substantial cash transactions generated from locker room concession sales, using the undocumented cash from the sales to purchase alcohol for resale at a golf fundraiser and funneling credit card transactions totaling a little more than $2,000 from the same fundraiser to an account held by their daughter.

"It was determined they had rerouted approximately $2,300 to a personal account, and the remaining approximately $6,900 was due to sloppy bookkeeping, not theft, relating to sales of school merchandise where the funds had not yet been collected from students," Stillwell wrote.

The Hanlons paid back the $2,300 from the Estero Wildcats Football Golf Fundraiser that was routed to the daughter's personal account when questioned about it during an Oct. 24 meeting with district personnel, nearly three months after the fundraiser. Stillwell said the decision was made to accept the money on behalf of the booster club so it could be directed toward student activities as quickly as possible.

Castellano, who has worked with booster clubs in the past, said there was no mention of "stealing" by the district throughout the investigation into the Hanlons. Instead, he said a change in leadership within the booster club contributed to there being no definitive process as to how funds are handled and deposited.

"They are entitled to due process like everyone else, and we stand by them every step of the way," Castellano said. "I didn't see anything to warrant termination."

The investigation sparked by a September reported theft of locker room concession money cites bank records that show money from the golf fundraiser in August was spent almost immediately after the deposit at Sam's Club, Publix, Mel's Diner, Marshall's, American Eagle, Abercrombie and Fitch and Jet's Pizza in the Naples area.

There were gaps in Jeff Hanlon's accounting with regard to locker room refreshment sales, team apparel sales and collection of fees for players to attend a team camp in Babson Park over the summer.

Recognizing the Hanlons are annual employees, Castellano said the district is free to renew or not renew their contracts in a few months. He did ask the district take into consideration what he estimates to be $40,000 to train district employees and that the district would be losing that investment if the Hanlons were terminated prior to their contracts ending and then have to reinvest more money in new employees.

Jeff Hanlon was also found to not have followed proper concussion protocol when one of his players suffered a possible head injury during a practice, failing to inform the school's trainer of the injury for three days.

Castellano disputes this finding.

"I saw no evidence that the child had a concussion," Castellano said, adding he didn't see a CAT scan. "I never saw anything that Jeff negligently put that child at risk."

In the report, the player's mother told Estero trainer Payton DiLallo a doctor diagnosed him with a concussion. The mother didn't return messages for comment.

Lee County School Board member Chris Patriccia, who represents District 3 which includes Estero High, declined comment on the investigation's findings, stating board members do not respond to personnel matters.

The Hanlon's both possess Florida teaching certificates. Stillwell said the Hanlon's investigatory file was sent to the Florida Department of Education for review.

Department of Education spokeswoman Audrey Walden said: "We can neither confirm or deny whether there is an open investigation on Jeff Hanlon or Marjorie Hanlon."

Any legally sufficient complaint reviewed by Professional Practices Services would be evaluated on the facts and evidence pertinent to the individual case," Walden added.

The state's Principles of Professional Conduct for the Education Profession state an educator "shall make reasonable effort to protect the student from conditions harmful to learning and/or to the students mental and/or physical health and/safety."

In addition, the individual shall not use institutional privileges for personal gain or advantage.

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January 18, 2018


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