School district administrators in Centralia attempted to smear school principal for reporting Medicaid fraud

July 31, 2014

I recently reported the Centralia School District, a district of 3,494 students south of Olympia, paid $372,000 for cheating Medicaid under the Medicaid Administrative Claiming program (MAC), for having “knowingly filed scores of false time study forms to obtain MAC reimbursement payments it was not legally entitled to receive.” The Attorney General also found that when a well-place whistleblower, school principal Neal Kirby, asked Centralia’s school administrators to investigate the fraud, these administrators instead worked to discredit and smear his reputation and good name. (Five of these administrators no longer work for the district, as I reported here.) 

The courageous whistleblower in Centralia is Principal Neal Kirby. He has served students and parents in Centralia for 22 years, 14 years as principal of Edison Elementary School, eight years as principal of Centralia Middle School, until his retirement the spring of 2013. Under Mr. Kirby’s leadership, the staff at Edison Elementary was recognized as “Exemplary” or “Very Good” by the State Board of Education for successfully teaching low-income children how to read and learn math. Mr. Kirby is also a former state representative and has served on legislative working groups relating to school finance. In November of 2013, he was elected to the Centralia School Board, continuing to serve the students and families in Centralia. 

The Attorney General describes how school administrators responded to Mr. Kirby’s questions about the MAC claims:

“Yet despite the evident importance of the topic to the community and the District, we are aware of no evidence that the administration ever examined the underlying allegations of a well-placed whistleblower.

To the contrary our investigation has revealed repeated and widespread efforts to discredit the former Centralia School District employee who provided some information about the District’s conduct of the MAC program. This employee provided specific credible information to the District administration about suspected wrongdoing. If administrators would have conducted a cursory investigation or meaningfully engaged HCA [Health Care Authority], problems such as the examples discussed above, would have been readily apparent. However, instead of fulfilling their oversight obligations, it appears that they instead chose to attack the employee’s motives and credibility.”

The Centralia case is about a group of school administrators who deliberately and knowingly “grossly exaggerated” the time spent on these illegal Medicaid activities. When Neal Kirby raised questions about these fraudulent practices, these administrators not only ignored his questions, they attempted to smear his credibility and reputation in the local newspaper, The Chronicle. 

This deceit and dishonesty from school administrators in the Centralia School District, and their shameful treatment of this courageous principal and now school board member, raises real questions about the extent to which the public is able to hold unscrupulous school administrators accountable. These are the public employees we rely upon to help teach our children how to behave toward one another, above and beyond the academics. Though these school administrators should be held to a higher standard, they appear to be held to a lesser one.