District: Ex-principal created 'slush fund,' misused school money

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The former principal of East Ridge High School in Woodbury used school funds to buy thousands of dollars worth of items in violation of school district policies, according to documents released Tuesday by the school district.

Aaron Harper is also accused of maintaining a "slush fund" to pay for other items without proper documentation, the South Washington County Bulletin reports.

Harper, who had been principal since the school opened in 2009, resigned from his position in November after the South Washington County School District completed an investigation of several complaints against him.

At the time, the district kept the details private while seeking legal advice on whether it was legal to release the information.

A state agency advised the district last week that the material should be open to the public, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

According to the Bulletin, the complaints against Harper include the following:

  • East Ridge ran over budget by up to $20,000 over the past several years.
  • He maintained a “slush fund” of cash from student parking fees and used it to pay for food for students and staff, reimbursements and other purchases, without providing documentation or an explanation.
  • He failed to follow district policy for purchases and didn’t receive appropriate authorization.
  • Gift cards he purchased with district money are unaccounted for, as are iPads he bought with school money.
  • He bought a Sam’s Club personal membership with district money.
  • He used district money to buy youth softball equipment for an East Ridge Athletic Association team he coached; the location of the equipment is unknown.
  • He bought hurdles with district money, and they cannot be located.
  • He received clothing and shoes for himself and his family from a district vendor.
  • He took clothing and items from the East Ridge school store without paying for them, and he took district sanders and golf carts for personal use.

Another complaint claims Harper granted the East Ridge Athletic Association access to high school facilities without requiring it to pay the rental fee.

Harper could not be reached immediately for comment and his attorney declined to comment to the Bulletin until he had consulted with Harper.

Harper is still being investigated by Woodbury police for alleged misuse of public funds, according to the Bulletin, although a police department official would not disclose any other details.

An interim principal took over at East Ridge in November and will remain at the school for the rest of the academic year. A permanent replacement will be hired before September.

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