Auditor: Montgomery school officials were wrong in hiring superintendent's wife

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comDecember 17, 2013 

State Auditor Adam Edelen's office has found that Montgomery County school officials made "unreasonable modifications" in hiring the superintendent's wife as director of special projects.

In addition, Edelen's office found that the district's characterization of that position is not consistent with the job title and district documentation.

In a letter dated Tuesday to board chairman Kenney Gulley, Edelen suggested that the school board review the actions taken by district officials and discuss the matter to determine the appropriate actions necessary "to ensure this issue is appropriately resolved."

Edelen's office has been investigating a complaint about the hiring of Anna Powell, the wife of Montgomery County Superintendent Josh Powell.

Anna Powell began her job last month, after being selected by a hiring committee.

The state's anti-nepotism law says that no relative of a school superintendent may be employed by the school district. There are exceptions, however. A superintendent's spouse can be an employee of the district if he or she has at least eight years of service in school systems and doesn't supervise certified or classified employees.

Montgomery County officials, including Gulley and the Powells, told the Herald-Leader last month that Anna Powell's hiring meets the criteria and was handled properly. District officials said assistant superintendent — not Joshua Powell — would supervise Anna Powell, and that she didn't supervise employees.

District officials told the Herald-Leader in November that they made some changes to supervisory roles to accommodate the departure of the previous school improvement director, who oversaw special education and whose position is not going to be filled.

Edelen's letter said he had referred the matter to the Office of Education Accountability and the Kentucky Education Professional Standards Board.

In response to the letter, Gulley said Tuesday that he would confer with legal counsel.

"We are going to follow the letter and the intent of the law. We are not trying to circumvent anything," Gulley said.

Also Tuesday, Joshua Powell said: "I find significant error in the auditor's report and stand behind the legal authority to hire Dr. Anna Powell." He added that the claim that the job description was modified in order for her to be hired is untrue.

"I anticipated something like this," Powell said. "It's ridiculous."

The school district's website said that before joining Montgomery County Schools, Anna Powell had 10 years of service in other Kentucky public schools.

She has been a school psychologist, an assistant principal and curriculum specialist, and a preschool coordinator, the website said. She was director of special education in Hancock County, Joshua Powell said. Anna Powell is eligible to be certified as a superintendent in Kentucky, the website said.

The purpose of Edelen's examination was not to opine on whether the person hired was the best candidate for the position, but to determine whether the appropriate hiring process was followed and whether the district's hiring of the superintendent's wife complied with state law, the letter said.

Edelen's letter said that based on the job description at the time of the job posting and interview process, Anna Powell wouldn't have qualified for the position.

The job description clearly indicated that the employee would report to the superintendent and would supervise and evaluate staff, Edelen's letter said.

"Based on statements made by district personnel and a board attorney, we question the reasonableness of the accommodations made by the district to allow for the hiring," the letter said.

The position has remained one of authority and supervision, Edelen's letter said.

Stephenie Hoelscher, a spokeswoman for Edelen's office, said Tuesday that the letter speaks for itself.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: (859) 231-3409. Twitter: @vhspears.Valarie Honeycutt Spears: (859) 231-3409. Twitter: @vhspears.

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