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Audit: Timpview financial issues go beyond football

Published March 15, 2012 3:56 pm

Review raises concerns administrators, coaches used public moneyfor personal gain.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Provo • Financial misconduct at Timpview High School over the past three years was not limited to its successful football program and suspended coach Louis Wong, an audit released early Wednesday by the State Office of Education revealed.

The audit, which was conducted in January and studied financial practices at the Provo high school from July 1, 2009, through Dec. 13, 2011, raised concerns that administrators and coaches have loosely documented expenditures and used public money for personal gain. The audit was requested in November by Provo City School District Superintendent Randy Merrill, who has since stepped down.

"I think we didn't understand or didn't realize the severity of the situation," interim superintendent Bob Gentry said. "We're looking at all aspects of this and whoever else is involved and encouraged this."

In one instance, former principal George Bayles, who retired last year, used money from the administration account to pay for a plane ticket for his wife. The audit analyzed 2 percent of the transactions made, over the three years studied, by 12 groups, not including football or drivers' education. In that sample, the auditor found those groups combined for $27,624 in expenditures deemed "questionable or unusual." After a review of a similar sample of the football and driver's ed accounts, both overseen by Wong, the report lists $14,293 in expenses that fell in that category.

In recent months scrutiny fell on Wong, whose Thunderbird teams went 77-10 in Wong's first seven seasons as head coach and won four Class 4A championships. The report reveals that Wong and the football program skirted district fiscal policies, used school funds for personal car repairs and kept imprecise financial records without proper oversight.

However, Wong did not appear to be alone at Timpview, where auditor Natalie Grange documented "unusual accounting practices and lax internal control" that created "an environment susceptible to errors, misappropriations, and waste or abuse."

"Usually, you might see one or two mistakes here or there," said business administrator Kerry Smith, who led the district's investigation. "We've never had a case where the pattern is as pervasive as this one."

After the Provo School District's own inquiry, Wong was suspended without pay Tuesday and would be fired after 30 days barring a successful appeal to the district.

If the audit itself was a scathing account of Timpview financial irresponsibility, Wednesday's school board meeting was a testament to the high esteem that the Timpview community holds for Wong. More than 100 people crowded the meeting room — even sitting on the floor to adhere to fire codes — in support of the ousted coach.

After reading a prepared statement, the school board did not address questions about Wong because the issue was not on the agenda.

But the meeting quickly turned confrontational as Wong supporters accused the board and other district officials of poor oversight and hypocrisy.

"I cannot count one meeting where there was training for fundraising involved," assistant coach Don Olsen said. "It seems to me this district is pretty dysfunctional. … Expedite this process and get this appeal taken care of. This community needs coach Wong. These boys need coach Wong."

At times, the crowd turned on the board in frustration with unanswered questions, prompting board president Kristine Manwaring to bang a gavel for order.

But portions of the meeting remained calm — particularly testimony by three Timpview students who called Wong a great teacher and mentor.

"We kept it civil," sophomore football player Rhett Van Leeuwen said. "Coach Wong wouldn't want us to be any other way."

Among the points in the audit that most seriously implicated Wong:

• The football program split invoices for $14,680 of landscaping and improvements to the football field to avoid state and school district policies requiring multiple bids for expenditures greater than $5,000;

• Wong signed an exclusive contract with Under Armour to supply apparel to the football team without taking other bids. He also violated state guidelines by requiring players to buy apparel and received $815.25 in clothing for himself;

• Wong billed the school for $759.84 of personal car repairs and towing, three to his own Mercedes and one to his son's Volkswagen. Although he repaid two of the expenses, Wong was not charged sales tax on any of the transactions;

• The auditor projected that the school should have collected $43,500 in player-participation fees in 2011. Wong reported that the program received nearly $15,000 less than that, and ultimately deposited just $13,056.48

• The Timpview coaching staff was reimbursed for numerous meals, including $910.66 during a football camp in Price that was hosted by the College of Eastern Utah, not Timpview or the Provo City School District.

The district report filed to the school board also indicated that the football program mixed public and private funds through the football booster club, Gentry said.

Wong is best known for leading Timpview to four consecutive football state championships between 2005 and 2009, as well as holding the record for the longest winning streak in state history.

The audit first came to the school's attention in December, and hundreds of Timpview football supporters came to a school board meeting over rumors that Wong's job might be at risk.

Several parents and coaches in attendance swore retribution in November when four school board members will be up for re-election.

"They've forgotten they serve us, that they have stewardship of our children," assistant coach Ricky Frank said.

"We're going to do what we can do to make sure we get four new board members."

boram@sltrib.comkgoon@sltrib.com

Twitter: @oramb, @kylegoon