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Audit shows former Mesa superintendent wrongly spent $410K

Ember Conley. (Screenshot)

MESA — Leaders in Mesa Public Schools are admitting failure following unauthorized pay raises and new-hire contracts that cost big money.

“This will not happen again,” said governing board president Elaine Miner.

An internal audit found between extra pay solely for the superintendent’s executive team and two unapproved new administrative employees, the former superintendent, Ember Conley, wrongly spent $410,000 for this school year.

Conley resigned from the position in early December, three weeks after she was placed on administrative leave.

Conley’s exit came after a criminal complaint filed with the state Attorney General’s Office challenged those budget decisions.

Angry residents like Patrick Tucker lashed out at the five board members in Tuesday’s meeting.

“I submit to you five that you need to stop this,” he said. “You’re not being that buffer between the community, the children and the administrators.”

Preschool teacher said Kathy Zinkon that money should have gone to classrooms and not six-figure salaries.

Conley, hired in 2018, had two years left on a contract that paid her $225,000 a year.

She led the largest school district in the state, overseeing more than 80 schools and about 62,000 students.

“We are struggling. We have begged for support,” she said. “We have asked for additional adult support, instructional aides for our classrooms. But no one seems to care.”

The board admitted to lack of oversight in the audit the district conducted and released. President Elaine Miner went on damage control.

“This is heavy for all of us, and we appreciate you and your passion,” she said. “We do care. We really care.”

Miner also said Conley told board members changes in the executive staff would not impact the bottom line.

Board clerk Marcie Hutchinson says they trusted Conley.

“This had to see the light of day because we were kept in the dark,” Hutchinson said. “Now we have some numbers and we can make some decisions.”

Interim superintendent Pete Lesar announced changes that the governing board ratified unanimously.

“The superintendent will meet with the governing board to outline any changes to the superintendent’s executive team, and compensation including cost analysis, prior to governing board approval,” he said.

That wasn’t happening before. So now, Lesar had the unfortunate duty of recouping $70,000 in excessive pay, coming in the form of pay cuts to 15 administrators through the end of the school year.

“These district leaders have been cooperative and understand the changes that will take place,” Miner said.

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