Two new administrators hired to replace an official charged with embezzlement say they will work to improve employee relations while providing comprehensive services.
Betty Nelson and Mark Fargo have taken over duties formerly assigned to Steve Mullins, who resigned Sept. 8 as director of community services (see sidebar).
Employee Embezzlement Case inCourts
A Kent County Circuit Court hearing is scheduled for Dec. 28 in the case of Steve Mullins, the former Northview director of community services who has been charged with stealing district funds for his own use.
Mullins is charged with embezzlement of more than $1,000 and less than $20,000, said Det. Aron Bowser, principal investigator for the Kent County Sheriff’s Department. If convicted, Mullins faces penalties of up to five years in jail and a fine of either $10,000 or three times the amount embezzled, whichever is greater, Bowser said.
Investigators found evidence Mullins stole more than $30,000 in district funds dating to 2009, but the amount formally charged was reduced to make the case less complex and time-consuming, Bowser said. Mullins allegedly used funds for personal purchases such as air-conditioning and auto parts, but has returned much of the property, Bowser added.
Mullins’ conduct did not involve students or staff, Superintendent Scott Korpak emphasized, noting the district fully cooperated with authorities. Korpak said he does not believe the incident has hurt staff morale or community confidence in the school district.
“I don’t view this incident as a failure of the system,” Korpak said in an email. “People are responsible for their actions. There is no ‘fail safe’ system. Having said that, we have reviewed our processes, and have added some additional steps to our approval process.”
Rather than hire one person to succeed Mullins, district leaders split his position into two new posts: Nelson as transportation coordinator and Fargo as director of facilities. Nelson also was given responsibility for district safety procedures.
The move should improve efficiency and better meet the needs of staff and students, given the broad expanse of Mullins’ former position, said Superintendent Scott Korpak.
“We tried to figure out a way to have more specialized focus areas,” Korpak said. “Every student every day is impacted by our buildings and our buses.”
Besides providing efficiency and possible cost savings, Korpak said the new administrators bring a caring attitude to their respective staffs.
“They both come from a very relationship-focused perspective,” Korpak said. “They care about people and recognize the people they work with as individuals who value being respected and heard.”
Employee Morale a Top Priority
Fostering good employee relations is a high priority for both new administrators. They said they want to be more approachable and attentive to employees than many felt Mullins was.
“We kind of fell off the team aspect under the past management,” said Fargo, who worked under Mullins in charge of grounds maintenance. “I want to build it back into a team environment. I want people to be able to enjoy coming to work.”
“He had so much that he was involved in, that it’s kind of hard to focus on the individual teams,” Nelson said of Mullins’ many responsibilities.
While she is a newcomer to the district, Fargo is a 14-year Northview veteran. He’s held a variety of custodial and groundskeeping posts, and was a familiar face hoisting a snow shovel or riding a mower.
‘I want people to be able to enjoy coming to work.’ – Mark Fargo, facilities director
He said his experience, plus assisting on projects such as the renovated high school, gives him confidence for his new role overseeing a dozen district buildings and about 20 employees.
“I want the reputation for the service of the school system to be top-notch,” Fargo said. “A school system’s basically like running a small city. It really is its own little living, breathing thing.”
New Focus on District Safety
Nelson comes to Northview from Lowell Area Schools, where she worked for 12 years as a bus driver and trainer of new drivers. She drove seven hours a day carrying students about 150 miles. She also put on bus safety programs for young students, parent conferences and community events, and has taught bus-driver courses in defensive driving.
She was honored as 2015 Michigan School Bus Driver of the Year by the Michigan Association of Pupil Transportation.
In overseeing about 20 drivers and other transportation staff, Nelson said her top goals include bringing the drivers back together as a team.
“I don’t like referring to the drivers as ‘my drivers,’” Nelson said. “It’s the transportation team. We’re all in this together.”
She also aims to address bus safety with programs for elementary students, as well as taking on responsibility for district safety overall. That will include working with Fargo on items such as security cameras, safe handling of chemicals and emergency lockdown drills.
Though their positions are separate, they see themselves working closely together. Said Fargo, “It’s all about being a team here.”