By Kevin Kelley
With summer comes the end of the school year and, Fairview Park City School district officials hope, the end of the Kevin Liptrap affair.
The former principal of Fairview High School and Lewis F. Mayer Middle School pleaded guilty to theft in office last month for embezzling more than $63,000 in school funds. On June 18, Cuyahoga Common Pleas Court Judge Joan Synenberg sentenced him to 90 days in a Cleveland halfway house, three years of probation and 500 hours of community service. She warned him that he faces a three-year prison sentence if he violates any aspect of his supervision.
He must also repay not only the $63,000 he stole, but also the $58,000 cost of a state audit that investigated his embezzlements and $4,000 in district legal costs.
Much of that money will come from his accumulated state retirement account, which was seized by the court.
Fairview Park City Schools Board of Education President Joe Shucofsky said he was satisfied with the sentencing.
“I think it was important that the court acknowledged the harm that Mr. Liptrap caused to the district and to the students of the district,” he said after the court hearing. “I believe that her recommendation for sentencing was an appropriate one.”
The board did not make any request to the court for any specific sentence beyond the restitution of funds, Shucofsky said.
“That’s something that we leave to the judge,” he said of the specifics of the sentencing.
The main concern expressed by the district in court was that it gets its money back.
“We certainly wanted to be reimbursed for the funds that the district was out because those funds belong to the taxpayers and the students, and we can use those funds to educate students, and that’s important,” Shucofsky said.
The school board president said the district is still in the process of healing from the damage Liptrap caused.
“I think, initially, it was very, very difficult,” he said of the embezzling disclosure in October 2010. “I think that there are still some lingering issues that remain in the district that relate to the trust issues that the judge acknowledged in her sentence. It’s getting better, but it’s hard work. It’s hard work trying to repair those relationships.”
Shucofsky could offer no pop psychology explanation of why Liptrap abused his position of trust. The school board president repeated what he told the court — that Liptrap has a special gift of relating to students but squandered that gift. Shucofsky described Liptrap as a “particularly good con.” The district’s background checks on Liptrap failed to reveal anything in his history to indicate the possibility of dishonesty, he noted.
“There wasn’t anything in his history to suggest that this was happening,” Shucofsky said.
The district has put into place more stringent internal operating procedures regarding control of funds, Shucofsky said.
Both Shucofsky and district Treasurer Ryan Ghizzoni noted it was the district that discovered the embezzling and reported it to the state auditor’s office.
Ghizzoni said that the district recovered the maximum amount of funds it lost related to the case, including attorneys fees.
“We got everything we could get,” the treasurer said.
Former school board member Brad Lamb, who was board president when Liptrap’s theft was discovered, also attended Liptrap’s sentencing.
It wasn’t a far trip for Lamb; he only had to take an elevator ride in the county Justice Center, where he works as a bailiff for Judge Robert C. McClelland. But Lamb said he would have attended the sentencing even if he didn’t work in the Justice Center.
Lamb told West Life that the school district will get past the Liptrap affair.
“It’s good to get some closure to this issue,” Lamb said after the sentencing.
Superintendent Brion Deitsch, who did not attend the sentencing hearing due to a scheduling conflict, told West Life the most important thing to him was that the district was made whole financially.
“I’m just pleased that it’s behind us,” he said.
He said he hoped Liptrap’s conviction on the theft in office charge would serve as a deterrent to future crimes by public officials.
“I’m not interested in a ‘pound of flesh,’” he said, referring to the Shakespearian metaphor for an unreasonably harsh approach to getting one’s recompense.