Investigation Uncovers Massive Spending Scandal In Montgomery Co Schools Involving Phil Rison, Others

Our two-year investigation has uncovered documents that appear to show Phil Rison, assistant superintendent of Montgomery County Schools, along with former superintendent Joshua Powell, spent more than $176,000 in district funds without proper approval. Rison lied about having approval to colleagues, misled them regarding project requirements and hid information from both the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights in a Title IX investigation and the Kentucky High School Athletic Association’s Title IX reporting system.

It all started last year, half way into our MoCo-Powell investigation, when leaked emails regarding a large baseball field project wound up our hands. While this story fell off our priority list, all the dots have finally been connected.

During the 2012-2013 school year, Rison and Powell launched a massive high school baseball field (technically located at the middle school) project. The extent of the effort was so large at the time that some members of the school board wanted to table it for later discussion, as there were bonding concerns. Rison, Powell and the former board moved forward anyway.

Let’s begin with those emails. They’re between former Director of Athletics, Gene Heffington, and Rison that took place on March 19, 2013.

In message one, Heffington contacted coaches to get their data prepared for Title IX reporting:


EMAIL ONE

In the second, Rison advised Heffington that he had all necessary information on-hand:


EMAIL TWO

In the third, Heffington inquires about money spent during that current school year:


EMAIL THREE

In the fourth, Rison revealed that he used information that was a year old:


EMAIL FOUR

In the fifth, Heffington sought confirmation regarding Title IX reporting and brought up the monstrous baseball field renovation:


EMAIL FIVE

In the final message, Rison told Heffington the baseball field had nothing to do with Title IX reporting (it did) and explained that he had an approved BG-1 form for the final project (he didn’t):


EMAIL SIX

Unfortunately for Rison, that BG-1 form wasn’t even acknowledged by the Kentucky Department of Education until June 17, 2013. Then the project was merely tentatively approved:



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That was signed by former board chair Fern Reed.

This vote took place during a special board meeting on October 30, 2012:


FROM THE SCHOOL BOARD

Another vote took place during a regular board meeting on February 26, 2013 for a revised BG-1, offering this facilities plan:



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You can see it was part of the middle school project.

On May 30, 2013 another special session was held and this BG-1 revision was presented:



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The board again voted for approval:


FROM THE SCHOOL BOARD

The final project wasn’t approved by KDE until June 26, 2014:



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That document was signed by Reed’s successor, former board chair Kenney Gulley just before the OCR Title IX investigation kicked off.

Jacqui Johnston signed both documents as finance officer.

Work on the baseball field was finished long before approval was received from KDE in June 2014.

Rison never mentioned it on Title IX reports to KHSAA:

2012-2013 SCHOOL YEAR


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2013-2014 SCHOOL YEAR


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And never mentioned it to the OCR during its Title IX investigation, which only wrapped up a few weeks ago.

This marks the third major spending scandal uncovered that directly involves these key individuals. An unapproved $90,000+ maintenance facilities building, a major gymnasium renovation with admitted bid rigging and now this.

School districts in Kentucky don’t just undertake $176,000+ projects without first receiving approval from the state. Waiting a year to required forms to receive approval, while a project is underway, is unbelievably damning. Even for Montgomery County, a district wrought with mismanagement.

Deliberately concealing a construction project that occurred without approval is sending up red flags with current and former board members. Those we’ve spoken to were concerned to the point of nervously roping in attorneys to answer questions.

This won’t be over any time soon.

UPDATE — These photos were taken in September 2013 after the work had been completed:









Those first two photos show the softball field. They’re there for purposes of comparison.