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1:18 PM Wed, Nov. 14th

Auditors say former Peach Springs superintendent should lose his credentials

Auditors say the superintendent of a Navajo Nation school district should lose his teaching and superintendent credentials for gross financial mismanagement at his last school district.

Auditors at Veriti Consulting were appointed by the Arizona State Board of Education to investigate what went wrong at Peach Springs Unified School District, a 200-student district on the Hualapai Nation about 100 miles northwest of Flagstaff.

Under former Superintendent Eugene Thomas, the district overspent its budget by about $1.5 million in one year. Thomas is now the superintendent in Tuba City, about 70 miles north of Flagstaff on the Navajo Nation.

Thomas declined to answer specific questions about the auditors' report, but wrote a statement saying disputed expenditures were approved by the school board and the Mohave County Superintendent of Schools, and that he was never contacted by the auditors before the release of their report.

Mohave County Superintendent of Schools Mike File said he told Thomas in October 2006 that he "needed to reduce his staff and cut frivolous spending" at Peach Springs.

The auditors say Thomas hired and overpaid unnecessary staff members and gave bonuses to favored employees. They also said voter-approved bond money was used to pay for $47,000 worth of dirt for a playground, $35,000 of Thomas' salary, and three vehicles that had no known business purpose and may have been used extensively for personal travel by district employees.

The auditors found $91,000 had been spent on new computer equipment, including "huge, extravagant computer monitors for district personnel." Junior high students had only grammar books, no English or literature books, and an 11,000-square-foot building was built for fewer than 56 students, at a cost of more than $1.5 million, even as enrollment declined.

"The impact of Mr. Thomas' mismanagement will be felt in Peach Springs for many years to come and will compromise the long-term quality and availability of education to this community," the auditors wrote in recommending that Thomas lose his credentials to teach or be superintendent.

Thomas has not been charged with any wrongdoing, placed on leave or lost his credentials.

He is under investigation by the Mohave County Attorney's office and the Arizona State Board of Education, according to each of those agencies.

Tuba City parents and teachers have petitioned the school board to remove Thomas following allegations that he gave raises and new vehicles to favored employees and used an employee purchase program he was not eligible for to buy himself a plasma television.