Records raise more questions over principal’s ouster

There are certainly troubling aspects to the alleged actions of former East Ridge High School (Woodbury) principal Aaron Harper, who resigned under pressure in early November.

Up until now, nobody has said why. But the Star Tribune obtained records about the resignation that show he spent school funds inappropriately.

East Ridge High School allegedly used school district funds to purchase iPads, gift cards, a personal membership to Sam’s Club and other items, according to complaints filed with his employer, documents released Tuesday show.

The Woodbury police department confirmed it’s opened an investigation into the spending.

The newspaper says the documents it received didn’t show if the school district — an historically tight-lipped district — found wrongdoing by Harper. It apparently didn’t discipline him and the resignation — on the surface — looks like a deal to make everything go away as quickly as possible.

But it’s entirely unclear whether Harper was using school department money for personal gain, or paying for things the school system should have been providing.

For example, he used money that students pay for parking to buy iPads, but it doesn’t say where those iPads went.

The rest of the story suggests some of his purchases were for students themselves.

The complaints also allege that Harper used district funds to buy sets of knives “that had not been requested” for the Family and Consumer Sciences Department, and accepted a gift set of knives. Copies of receipts show that Harper spent $7,932 on knife sets in 2013.

Did the knives end up in the classroom? The documents don’t say, apparently. If the department didn’t request the knives, who needs thousands of dollars worth of kitchen knives?

Harper allegedly bought nutrition drinks, gift cards and youth softball equipment, and inappropriately received gifts from a district vendor, according to the complaints.

Where would a principal be directing nutrition drinks and softball equipment? We suspect they went to kids, probably ones playing softball. The Pioneer Press says officials can’t find the equipment, adding that it was intended for an East Ridge team he coached.

According to the Pioneer Press:

He bought hurdles with district money, and they cannot be located.

Where do you hide hurdles? And why would you want to? Was there a shortage of hurdles at East Ridge High School and if so, why?

South Washington County School Board Chairman Ron Kath refused to comment to the paper on the allegations, and therein lies a significant problem. It’s not as if these sorts of allegations aren’t any of the business of the people whose money was spent.

As the Pioneer Press points out:

Several metro school districts have had administrators resign in recent years after being investigated. Typically, no disciplinary action was taken and employees signed separation agreements similar to Harper’s.