Little charges misuse of funds

By By Georgia E. Frye / staff writer
Nov. 8, 2003
Lauderdale County School Superintendent David Little said Friday that his opponent in the general election and his opponent's wife may have misused grant money and federal funds.
Little said he asked the state auditor's office to investigate whether Denise Knight violated any laws by using federal funds to pay for classes she took toward the completion of her doctorate degree.
In addition, Little said he asked the auditor's office to investigate whether Joey Knight violated any laws by using grant money to buy gift certificates for teachers at Southeast Lauderdale Elementary School.
A spokesman for the auditor's office would not confirm or deny if they were investigating the Knights.
On Friday, Denise Knight, federal programs director for Lauderdale County public schools, and Joey Knight, Southeast Lauderdale Elementary principal, declined requests for interviews.
Joey Knight's only comment was that he didn't buy his teachers gift certificates. However, he said at a political forum more than two weeks ago that grant money was used to buy gift certificates for teachers.
Denise Knight faxed a prepared statement to The Meridian Star that said all expenditures were approved by Little, the Lauderdale County School Board and the state Department of Education.
Little, a Democrat, won a third straight term as county school superintendent in the Tuesday election. Little defeated Joey Knight, a Republican who has been principal of Southeast Elementary for 14 years.
Little said that Denise Knight used "several thousand dollars" of Title 1 federal funds in January to pay for her classes. Little would not give a specific dollar amount.
He said her actions may have violated state and federal laws because the money was supposed to be used for professional development and "to help teachers become highly qualified."
Little said he learned about Denise's actions in February, but made no public statements until now because he didn't want it to become a campaign issue. He said he wanted "to run a clean campaign based on my own merit."
Little said that Joey Knight spent $420 of grant money from the Barksdale Reading Institute to buy gift certificates for his Southeast Lauderdale teachers weeks before the superintendent's election.
While Barksdale grant money can be used for teacher incentives, Little said, it would be a violation of state law to spend the grant money on gifts.
Claiborne Barksdale, brother of Jim Barksdale founder of Netscape and the Barksdale Reading Institute said he has no problem with principals using grant money to buy incentives for teachers.
Barksdale grant money is intended to improve faculty teaching skills, provide books for in-school and take-home purposes and increase reading levels of children age 4 through the third-grade.
Ricky Douglas, business manager for the Barksdale Reading Institute, said Southeast Elementary School received a $128,700 grant this year. Of that, he said, $420 was included for gift certificates for teachers.