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Ferry schools respond to allegations of ‘improprieties’

Editor’s note: The following is a news release issued by Martins Ferry City Schools Superitendent Jim Fogle on Thursday. The statement was made in response to allegations reported by The Times Leader on Saturday. That article reported that Karen Blake, who had been on paid leave for more than a year, had reached a resignation agreement with the district in which she resigned as treasurer but would retain the title of assistant treasurer and continue to receive pay and benefits through Dec. 31, 2021, without reporting to work. In discussing the agreement, Blake alleged “improprietites” within the district’s operations.

An effort to reach Blake for comment Thursday was unsuccessful.

Statement from Jim Fogle, Superintendent of the Martins Ferry City School District

On behalf of the Martins Ferry City School District, I would like to respond to the disturbing statements made by former Treasurer, Karen Blake, that were reported in the September 14, 2019, article posted by The Times Leader newspaper. “Blake said she began working as treasurer in 2011 and found improprieties in district operations.” The news article goes on to state that “she also said there had been a lack of cooperation with her records requests during her time as treasurer.”

It should be noted that Mrs. Blake suddenly produced three hundred pages of alleged “improprieties” only after she was put on paid administrative leave. Some of the alleged improprieties had already been provided to the District in the past, and investigated and found not to be improper. In many instances, Mrs. Blake was not able to provide any substantiation for her allegations. However, following receipt of the alleged improprieties in District operations, the Martins Ferry Board of Education quickly submitted the allegations to and requested a formal review of the district’s finances by the Ohio Auditor’s office for the year ending June 30, 2018. The District asked the state agency to determine if there were any significant internal control deficiencies, fraud (including noncompliance with government laws and regulations) and also abuse and noncompliance with grant agreements and contracts.

On May 29, 2019, the Ohio Auditor’s office reported five minor findings and concluded “… we did not identify any deficiencies in internal control that we consider material weaknesses. However, unidentified material weakness may exist.” A copy of the Ohio Auditor’s report is a public document and is available for inspection at the Board office. This Board of Education will never tolerate any “improprieties in district operations” and will continue to work with the Ohio Auditor’s office to make sure the district is fully compliant with all rules and regulations.

As was previously noted by The Times Leader, in a similar audit of the Martins Ferry City School District covering July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, and released April 19 of 2018, “the Ohio Auditor’s office included only minor findings.”

The Board of Education entered a resignation agreement with Mrs. Blake before concluding its investigation into performance issues related to her duties. The decision was made to enter into an agreement to avoid the further cost of investigation and further disruption to the school’s operations while spending time conducting the investigation. As part of the investigation, an independent company specializing in forensic computer assessments discovered that a pornography website had been accessed on Mrs. Blake’s personal school computer several times. While it was not possible to prove that it was Mrs. Blake who accessed the porn site, the computer was under her care and control at her home. If an attempt had been made to access the porn site while at school, the school’s internet provider would have blocked any such access.

It has also been reported that the District settled an Age Discrimination claim as part of the Resignation Agreement. Mrs. Blake made no such allegations and the District did not agree to settle any such claim. However, it is common to include a release of all claims by an employee in exchange for payment to the employee whether or not such claims have been asserted.

It was the hope and intent of the Board of Education to end Mrs. Blake’s employment with a resignation settlement without incurring the risk of protracted and potentially expensive litigation. However, we also have a duty to respond to her public attacks impugning the integrity of this district and its leadership. This Board of Education will never tolerate any “improprieties in district operations” and will continue to work with the Ohio Auditor’s office to make sure the district is fully compliant with all rules and regulations.

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