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Schools Chief Resigns; Will Criminal Investigation Be Next?

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Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Deborah Jewell-Sherman announced she won't stay past the June 2009 expiration of her contract, but the transition over the next 15 months could be one bumpy ride.

She made the announcement at a press conference April 7, on her 57th birthday, through tears and to occasional applause.

"I can say with both humility and pride that I accomplished and in many ways exceeded what I set out to achieve when I signed that contract," she said.

Even as Jewell-Sherman announces her departure, School Board member Carol A.O. Wolf says she will ask the School Board to consider investigating whether City Auditor Umesh Dalal's findings over the past two years might warrant their call for a criminal investigation. She planned to push for the investigation at the April 7 board meeting.

To that end, she says, she will ask the board to appoint two members and a schools attorney to meet with Dalal to discuss what matters from the two audits of schools books might reveal illegal activities. Among such potential allegations, Wolf says, are obstruction of justice for the schools administration's failure to cooperate with Dalal's first attempt to audit the school system's finances.

The auditor's most recent report revealed a host of additional activities that might similarly warrant examining for criminal acts, with Wolf indicating that it is the board's legal charge under the state constitution to report any acts it is aware of that might be of a criminal nature within its organization.

"We expect the students of RPS to obey the laws of the commonwealth and we have a zero tolerance policy in place for their behavior, then I think the rest of us should be forced to obey them as well," says Wolf.

Should the board vote to approve her suggestion, Wolf says she then wants the findings of the board's inquiries forwarded to Richmond Commonwealth's Attorney Michael Herring.

Though not part of the scope of this recent audit, Dalal's office continues to investigate other areas of school finances, including last year's controversial move of the school system's information technology department out of City Hall at a cost of more than $700,000. An internal audit of the move found irregularities, but justified the move and dismissed the possibility of illegal actions by administration officials.

Dalal also says his office is conducting a separate investigation of the information technology department, related to computer operations outside of the central office facilities.

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