Larke under fire for "no interest loans" to employees

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August 30, 2006

Richmond County school superintendent Dr. Charles Larke is coming under fire for writing hundreds of thousands of dollars in advance salary checks to help employees who requested salary advances.

In one of the letters Larke received and approved, an employee asked for $700 to pay the rent.

Some school board members are irate over all this...but Dr. Larke insists he's never misspent your tax dollars.

Dr. Larke admits the policy was abused--that over the years, teachers have requested too much money before paydays.

But he still issued the checks, and says board members knew he was doing it.

School board member Kenneth Echols can't believe what he's hearing: Superintendent Dr. Charles Larke blamed for issuing hundreds of advanced checks to school employees, and the amount rumored to be half a million dollars.

"We're having problems with our budget. With our reserve funds. And here we are taking $600,000 out of our budget," he said.

That $600,000 is now at the center of a financial investigation.

"You know, we shouldn't be in the business of making loans," Echlos said. "That's what it amounts to. And that's what we're doing. And there's no policy of the board that I know of that we do that."

But Dr. Larke is fighting back. He says he was given the administrative right to issue advancements, especially for new teachers.

"There's money there that's earned by them but has not been paid to them. And they may ask for a large amount... but it's their money," he told News 12.

And it's money he says employees request for different reasons, among them housing needs, medication, utilities, mortgages, and even funerals.

News 12 saw a copy of a request for $700. Larke says he approved it because the employee provided him with a copy of an eviction notice.

But even Larke admits it got a little out of hand.

"I complained about it to board members that I thought it was being abused," he said. "And I've complained about it to my staff, they can attest to that...that I've gotten tired of all these long, sob, sad stories."

Larke says more proof the board knew about the practice is the statement he made in a September 2005 newsletter that he would only grant two payroll advances per employee per year.

"And now you're telling me that some board members are not aware of the fact that we honor requests for advance checks? Come on."

"If he's done this and the board has not been involved and had no information, don't try to put the blame on the school board," Echols said. "We had no knowledge of it."

Until today, Larke thought he'd retire in March after 40 years in the Richmond County school system.

Now he's not so sure.

Ken Echols says if Larke did sign off on money that was not approved by the board, it could be grounds for termination.