Emails reveal details of TPS athletics probe
BY ANDREA EGER World Staff Writer
Sunday, February 03, 2013
2/03/13 at 8:15 AM
Read the email exchanges and see the rental logs
East Central High School
Memorial High School
Log of revenue TPS received from property rentals
Emails obtained through an Open Records Act request reveal new details about the Tulsa Public Schools athletic department scandal, which finally resulted in charges against former Athletic Director Stephanie Spring after a yearlong investigation by local and federal law enforcement.
The written correspondence between Spring and athletics employees and booster club leaders indicates that youth sports groups and others paid for the use of facilities at East Central and Memorial high schools for regular sporting events and special events.
But the school district's log of revenue received from facility rentals or leases during the same time period includes almost no records of payments for athletic facility usage.
Numerous email exchanges during her last full academic year of employment at TPS show Spring:
On Thursday, Spring was charged in Tulsa federal court with stealing money from the school district.
- Solicited funds from individuals who contacted her to request the use of athletic facilities.
- Directed the amounts of fees collected by others.
- Dictated the division of the fees between an account called "TPS Athletics," local schools' accounts, as well as off-the-books payments to school groundskeepers.
The charge alleges that in 2011, Spring deposited into her personal account an unspecified amount of money in excess of $5,000 for the rental of school facilities. The money should have been deposited into the school district's general fund.
Spring resigned from TPS last January, and by March it was revealed that the FBI and federal prosecutors had become involved in an investigation into possible embezzlement and misappropriation of funds in the district's athletic department.
Assistant Athletic Directors Latricia Pruitt and Jon Wheeler were also suspended over the matter. Wheeler later resigned, but Pruitt was reinstated and now works at an alternative education program.
In December 2011, East Central High School's athletic director and football coach, Travis Hill, was suspended. He later resigned, but officials have never said whether that situation was related.
A Tulsa World review of TPS records shows facility rentals and leases brought in a total of $269,476 districtwide in 2010-11, the last full academic year Spring was employed there.
But none of the numerous rentals - and thousands of dollars in fees - discussed in Spring's emails with East Central's Hill or a booster club president from Memorial High School from that same period are logged.
TPS administrators have repeatedly declined to comment about the athletic department investigation because it is still ongoing. However, when asked why the athletic facility rental fees weren't reflected on the revenue log for 2010-11, Superintendent Keith Ballard told the Tulsa World, "By policy, all rentals should go through the TPS facilities office. Everything that is on that chart, if it was a lease or rental of property, it should have gone through that office and should have been there."
The email trail
A host of organizations arranged facility rentals at both high schools.
A Dallas-area group called the Home School Athletic Association arranged for the use of East Central's stadium in October 2010.
Emails show that Spring directed a woman from the group to write one check for $400 to "TPS Athletics" and a separate one for $100 to Paul Thomas, whom she identified as the groundskeeper who would be working at the event.
A check of the latest TPS employee database shows the district still employs a groundskeeper by that name.
That same month an event organizer agreed to make a "donation" of $100 in exchange for ground space at East Central to set up a trailer for a corporate food service demonstration.
Spring directed him to send the check to "East Central High School Athletics Attention: Travis Hill."
In a separate email to Hill about the money from that event, Spring writes, "You guys can put it in your Athletic General fund or something."
In emails from July 2011, Spring and Hill communicated with each other about a possible increase in fees to a youth soccer league that used the grounds at East Central for its nine-week season.
The league organizer wrote to say he didn't have it in his budget to cover a hike in fees and didn't want to ask his players to pay more at the last minute because they come from low-income families.
Spring advised Hill, "I think we should leave it the same for this season so they have time to notify parents ... I want to work with them, they have been good customers."
In emails to Karen Gilbert, at the time serving as president of the Tulsa Memorial High School Soccer Booster Club, Spring asked whether users of the stadium there were paying and directed her to send payments to "TPS Athletics."
The correspondence shows that Gilbert routinely asked Spring to specify or approve rental fee amounts for Memorial facilities and the cut that Memorial's soccer and football booster organizations would keep. Gilbert also regularly let Spring know to expect payments she mailed to the district athletics office.
Booster clubs are independent organizations. Memorial's soccer booster club has its own website that details its bylaws and officer duties.
Gilbert, who is currently employed at a TPS middle school, also volunteered extensively on the board of the citywide Tulsa Council of PTAs before being elected to the Tulsa City Council. She is married to Tom Gilbert, the Tulsa World's chief photographer.
In April 2011, Karen Gilbert forwarded to Spring an email stating that the Oklahoma Thunder minor league football team had agreed to pay $300 to TPS, "donate" $600 to the Memorial football program and give $200 per game to school staff to open and close the facility. Gilbert asked Spring if it was OK, and Spring replied that it was as long as it didn't interfere with the school's use.
The Thunder's website lists Memorial's LaFortune Stadium as its home game site. For its most recent season, seven games were shown as home games.
Gilbert also emailed Spring to inquire about the availability of fields at other school sites for dates when a soccer club couldn't use the stadium at Memorial because of scheduling conflicts with school teams.
Spring replied with the dollar amount the fee would be at Booker T. Washington High School.
Contacted about the athletic department scandal, Gilbert said, "I wish I could comment, but I have been told not to by TPS administration because it is still under investigation."
Vickye Wagor, longtime president of the South Tulsa Youth Football Association, emailed with Spring in August 2011 about game scheduling at the stadium for the South Tulsa Raiders.
Contacted about the rental fees she had paid, Wagor told the Tulsa World she would have to check with her board of directors before disclosing the amount paid for renting LaFortune Stadium.
But she did offer this statement: "I always paid with a check. I thought it was going to facilities usage - to the general fund."
Calls to Spring and Hill about this story were not returned.
Original Print Headline: Emails reveal details of TPS probe
Andrea Eger 918-581-8470
Dr. Stephanie Spring: Emails between Spring and sports groups detail TPS facility usage costs and payment instructions.