Missouri superintendent quits amid ethics problems

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SENECA, Mo. (AP) — A southwest Missouri school superintendent who persuaded the district board to approve a nearly $109,000 contract with an outside company that was paying him $5,000 a month has quit, four months after being fined by the state for ethics violations.

Steve Wilmoth became superintendent of the Seneca School District at a salary of $110,000 in April 2011, one month after he was hired by Educational Services of America to generate business for its Ombudsman Educational Services division.

The Seneca School Board voted April 22 to suspend Wilmoth without pay pending a termination hearing unless he resigned immediately. His resignation was accepted Thursday night, The Joplin Globe reported (http://bit.ly/1hEgU3o ).

Board president Suzanne Brown said Howard Neeley, former superintendent at Republic School District, would continue as Seneca’s interim superintendent. Wilmoth’s job was posted Friday, and the board hopes to find a candidate by the time school starts in August.

Wilmoth was fined $55,000 in February by the Missouri Ethics Commission for conflict of interest and failure to file an accurate financial disclosure statement required of Missouri school superintendents and school board members.

The commission found that Wilmoth neglected to list his $5,000-a-month earnings from Educational Services of America on his financial disclosure.

He also failed to disclose his ties to the company when he persuaded the school board in November 2011 to approve a contract with Ombudsman Educational Services, which partners with school districts to run alternative programs for students at risk of dropping out.

Under the contract, the school district paid $108,630 to Educational Services of America in the 2011-12 school year. The payment schedule was $205,500 in 2012-13; $211,650 in 2013-14; and $217,980 in 2014-15.

Wilmoth’s contract with Educational Services of America ended in February 2012, after a Seneca School District employee discovered the relationship.

Before then, however, he brought officials from the neighboring Sarcoxie and Mount Vernon school districts to see the Ombudsman program in Seneca. He told his bosses at ESA about the interest, saying he was speaking to many school administrators in southwest Missouri.

“Interest was always present but the interest is now a reality since they can see a program in action,” Wilmoth wrote in a report to the company.

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