Former Liberty County School System Superintendent Steve Wilmoth recently was sanctioned by the Missouri Ethics Commission for getting paid to promote an Ombudsman program while employed as the superintendent of the Seneca School District in Missouri.
The Newton County News reported that Wilmoth was working as a consultant for Ombudsman Educational Services when he urged the Seneca school board to hire the company in 2011 to manage that school district’s alternative school. The newspaper reported the commission filed a consent order last month claiming Wilmoth didn’t inform Seneca school-board members that he was being paid by Ombudsman “until after the district had signed a contract with the company and he’d been caught by a district employee using a company-owned computer.”
The Missouri Ethics Commission initially fined Wilmoth $55,000, the amount he allegedly was paid by OES for his consulting services, according to news reports.
“As part of the (ethics commission) consent order, Wilmoth stipulated that the commission’s findings against him were true and correct. He agreed to pay a reduced fine of $8,250 within 30 days. Should he violate state ethics laws again in the next two years or fail to pay, the fine’s original amount — $55,000 — will be due,” reported Newton County News editor Chad Hayworth in a Feb. 26 story.
The Ombudsman program is an alternative school for students with behavioral problems or those experiencing hardships that may cause them to drop out. Students usually are referred to the program, although some voluntarily request to attend, according to Liberty County school officials.
Wilmoth was superintendent of the Liberty County School System from 2001-07, and he is credited with establishing the Ombudsman program here. The alternative-educational program was implemented for the first time by LCSS during the 2005-06 school year, according to Jason Rogers, assistant superintendent of administrative services. Rogers confirmed the school board approved the Ombudsman contract during a July 13, 2004, meeting, contingent on approval by the Georgia Department of Education.
Liberty County Board of Education Chairwoman Lily Baker said the board would provide the Missouri Ethics Commission any documents that are requested, and deferred any further questions on the matter to current Superintendent Dr. Valya S. Lee.
“I sincerely hope that there were no violations when Dr. Wilmoth was superintendent in Liberty County,” Baker said.
Barbara Martin, who was school-board chairwoman during Wilmoth’s tenure in Liberty County, said she was shocked to hear about the accusations against Wilmoth when contacted by the Courier.
“I find it hard to believe he was not above board on everything he dealt with,” Martin said. “I never saw anything out of order.”
Martin said she accompanied Wilmoth when the school board first checked out the Ombudsman program. She said it filled a need, specifically for those students who could not succeed in a traditional school setting.
“I remember one single mom, she could come and go to school so many hours a day and then go home and take care of her baby,” Martin recalled. “Without that (program), she could not have finished her education.”
Martin said the alternative-educational program implemented by Wilmoth was the first of its kind in Georgia.
“After that, we had schools from all over the state that asked about it and started using it,” she said.
“Steve did a wonderful job here, and he was really a good person,” Martin added. “When you hear something like that, you wonder if there is any truth in it.”
The school system’s Ombudsman program serves middle- and high-school students. The alternative school centers include Ombudsman Liberty Central Center 1 and OES Liberty 2 Center, both off West Gen. Screven Way, and OES Liberty Middle Learning Center, off North Main Street.
For the month of February, 54 high-school students were enrolled in Ombudsman, and 32 middle-schoolers participated in the program, said Dr. Kathy Moody, executive director for student services.
In Liberty County, Ombudsman is paid $5,354 for each high-school student it teaches and $5,402 for each middle-schooler, for a total of $461,980 annually, according to the Newton County News.