YUKON — A recent news release from Yukon Public Schools lauded its superintendent for his years of service and role in getting a $92.4 million bond issue passed to build a “world-class” high school.
But the announcement of Bill Denton’s plans to retire in summer 2014 comes at a time when the district’s vocational agriculture program is being scrutinized by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, an inquiry that could result in criminal charges.
The district also lost an open records lawsuit last year and was ordered to pay a local couple nearly $20,000 after refusing to release an investigative report that pointed out numerous flaws in the district’s vocational agriculture program.
In addition, the district has drawn the attention of the state auditor and inspector’s office but isn’t currently under investigation by the agency.
Denton and the district have been named as defendants in at least four civil lawsuits since 2010.
One lawsuit alleges the superintendent, school district and several current and former vocational agriculture instructors allowed two students to be bullied on a routine basis.
A former school counselor is suing the district and Denton for wrongful termination.
A third lawsuit, which already has cost the district an $18,000 judgment, was filed after a local couple tried unsuccessfully to obtain a copy of an investigative report that looked into the Yukon vocational agriculture program.
Bob Harshaw, an OSBI inspector, confirmed to The Oklahoman in May that the agency had been looking into Yukon’s vocational agriculture program for nearly a year at that point. He said it was requested by the Yukon Police Department in June 2011.
Harshaw said the OSBI is investigating Yukon’s agriculture program over allegations that staffers inflated prices for livestock sold to some of the district’s agriculture students, a practice known as “skimming.”
The bureau has yet to submit its investigative report to the Canadian County district attorney, who could possibly file criminal charges against those involved.
State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones said he’s been contacted by private individuals regarding Yukon Public Schools and its superintendent, but he said an official investigation has yet to be launched.
“There have been some individuals furnish us with information, but we are not doing anything with it right now,” Jones said.
Jones said an audit by his office must be requested by the local district attorney’s office, the state attorney general, the Yukon school board, the governor or by petition. At this point, none of that has happened.
‘Nature of the job’
Despite all of the things swirling around his district right now, Denton said his decision to retire has little to do with those types of distractions.
“I really can’t say that was a part of it,” he said. “This job … you’ve always got issues and things you’ve got to deal with in your school, in your community or statewide.
“It’s just part of the nature of the job. That’s really not the major component.”
Denton, 66, said he has been considering retiring for some time. He said the chief reason he’s leaving education after four-plus decades, the “negative reason,” is what he described as “the attacks on public schools.”
“The reduction of the funding for five straight years … that’s what brought me to this point,” Denton said. “We’re operating schools with 20 percent less money than we had five years ago … and they continue to take away revenue sources.”
As for the school vocational agriculture program, the administrator said “major changes” have been implemented since a Yukon couple brought him allegations of possible financial impropriety involving at least two former instructors.
School district emails obtained by the couple’s attorney show that former vocational agriculture instructor Jason Bow confessed to overcharging the couple to make up for financial losses the program suffered when two calves died unexpectedly.
“We spent several months working with the ag teachers, the state department, our attorneys … they totally redid all the policies and procedures for the vo-ag program,” Denton said. “I’ve had other schools contact us and ask about our new policies.”
The superintendent, whose retirement will become effective at the end of the next school year, said the vocational agriculture at Yukon is as “strong as it’s ever been,” and the students are performing well this school year.
“As unfortunate as the situation was, I think it’s been good that we’ve been able to kind of clean house and move in a real positive direction,” Denton said.