The former principal of Woodbury’s East Ridge High School allegedly used school district funds to purchase iPads, gift cards, a personal membership to Sam’s Club and other items, according to complaints filed with his employer, documents released Tuesday show.
Aaron Harper, principal at the school since it opened in 2009, resigned abruptly last Nov. 6 following an investigation into complaints made to the South Washington County School District. Days later, the Woodbury Police Department confirmed that it had opened an investigation into Harper for alleged public misconduct. That investigation is continuing, said Woodbury Police Cmdr. Steve Wills.
District documents obtained by the Star Tribune through a data request do not say who made the complaints or whether the district found any wrongdoing by Harper. The district said it did not discipline him before he resigned.
The nearly 100 pages of documents were released after the state Department of Administration commissioner issued an advisory opinion Dec. 23 saying that all data relating to the complaint against Harper was public information.
The information released Tuesday included copies of receipts, invoices and credit card statements showing purchases Harper made using his school district-issued MasterCard, and purchases he made at Sam’s Club on his personal account.
The district also released documents outlining its purchasing policy and its guidelines for appropriate and inappropriate use of district credit cards, including a prohibition on using district funds to buy items for personal use.
The documents do not make clear whether all the items were purchased for personal use or for the school.
The documents list more than a dozen complaints filed against Harper.
According to the documents, “East Ridge High School has run over budget by up to $20,000 over the past several years.”
The complaints allege Harper maintained a “slush fund” of cash from daily student parking fees and used it to pay for food for students and staff or make other purchases “without providing documentation or an explanation.”
They allege that Harper used district funds to purchase iPads, but that “the location of the purchased equipment is unknown.” Copies of receipts that were part of the documents released Tuesday showed that Harper spent $9,487 at the Apple Store in Bloomington in August 2013, and $1,149 for iPads and accessories at the Oakdale Best Buy in December of that year.
The complaints also allege that Harper used district funds to buy sets of knives “that had not been requested” for the Family and Consumer Sciences Department, and accepted a gift set of knives. Copies of receipts show that Harper spent $7,932 on knife sets in 2013.
The district also received a complaint that Harper used school district money to pay for a personal Sam’s Club membership. Copies of statements for Harper’s district credit card showed that it was used to pay several bills for his Sam’s Club account.
Harper allegedly bought nutrition drinks, gift cards and youth softball equipment, and inappropriately received gifts from a district vendor, according to the complaints.
Neither Harper nor his attorney immediately responded to requests for comment Tuesday. A call to school board chairman Ron Kath was not immediately returned.
Harper did not address the accusations in his resignation letter, which the district included in the documents released Tuesday.
“I am choosing to step away from my leadership responsibilities as principal of East Ridge High School due to personal and professional choices,” Harper wrote.
He went on to write, “To be an educator is a tremendous responsibility with unparalleled purpose. I urge you to grab hold of your purpose today, for yesterday is gone. I wish the East Ridge and larger district community all the best!”