Former Martin County Schools Superintendent Accused of Abusing Power

By: WSAZ News Staff Email
By: WSAZ News Staff Email

MARTIN COUNTY, Ky. (WSAZ) -- A former superintendent of Martin County Schools is accused of abusing his power in order to help his family while he was in office.

The Kentucky State Auditor's Office released a report on Tuesday saying Mark Blackburn assigned his wife a position in the school and let her keep her previous salary and job duties, which was $50,000 more than the person who previously held the position. This cost the school system $200,000 over four years.

Auditor Adam Edelen also says the audit revealed that Blackburn gave privately funded scholarships to two of his children and other relatives of district personnel.

"One of the examples is he put his wife in a position and paid her more than what was in compliance with the grant fund used to pay for her position," Edelen said. "And the other was that two of his children had benefited from a scholarship program that wasn't properly overseen."

According to a release from the auditor's office, district staff and board members had no or minimal knowledge of the scholarship or recipient selection process.

Blackburn was superintendent from 2005-2013, when his contract was not renewed.

Steven Meadows succeeded Blackburn as superintendent in July. He is concerned about how the scholarship program may be perceived by current students.

"We want to make sure it's transparent and that all our eligible students know or are aware that this scholarship is available so that they can compete for it. Because it is a scholarship based upon need of the student," says Meadows.

Blackburn told the Associated Press he is disappointed by how the auditor has portrayed the findings and says his children earned the scholarship money on their own.

"This examination once again demonstrates the need for boards to get engaged and properly oversee the activities of their superintendents," Edelen said. "I applaud this Board for embracing the recommendations in our report and using them to strengthen oversight and controls moving forward."

"It's concerning that we would need an outside agency such as the state auditor's office to come in and do these types of audits," Meadows said. "It's uncomfortable and sometimes it's even inconvenient. But it is necessary."

Board Chairman Craig Preece said, "When first notified that your office would be conducting an examination of certain administrative activities in our district, the thought of yet another negative blow to the integrity of Martin County Schools was not a pleasant one. However, it was quickly welcomed as an additional strategy to help us correct course in several areas of district operations."

According to a press release, the examination into the schools also found that the former superintendent's contract contained redundant or unclear benefits and that the board did not adhere to statutory requirements related to the evaluation of the former superintendent.

Some of the findings have been turned over to the Kentucky Board of Education.

Blackburn is currently an elementary school teacher in the Martin County Schools system. Meadows could not comment if the findings will affect Blackburn's current position.

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