A high school teacher who talked Microsoft Corp. into donating $20,000 of software for his students and then contributed another $20,000 himself for school projects has been handed five days’ suspension without pay.

School district officials said Desert Vista, Ariz., High School teacher George Alper failed to follow accounting procedures for the gifts and failed to submit proper purchase requests. In addition, officials said, Alper discarded, sold, or traded equipment belonging to the school.

They asked the Tempe Union High School District’s governing board to suspend Alper without pay for 20 days because of “unprofessional and insubordinate conduct.” The governing board reduced the punishment by a vote of 3-2.

Following the rules

“We believe these violations are serious. We need to send a message to Mr. Alper,” said Janis Merrill, the district’s attorney. “He is a fine teacher. But there are many factors as to what makes a fine teacher–and following rules and regulations are one of those.”

Alper admitted not following certain district policies, but said helping students was his only goal.

“School district funding procedures . . . are not set up to handle any issues in a timely fashion,” he wrote in a Nov. 8 letter to Desert Vista Principal Joe McDonald.

“School districts are paralyzed by their inability to change with the times and the net result is a paralysis in the learning process and students are not prepared to function in the world they will soon enter,” Alper wrote. “My only intent was to provide my kids with the best equipment, the best opportunity, and the best education.”

But that intent could land the district in hot water, according to district spokeswoman Veronica Osmers.

Osmers told eSchool News that purchasing protocol has become a hot-button issue in the area, sparking a heightened sensitivity to procurement procedures. Nearby Scottsdale Unified School District, for example, is currently under intense scrutiny for alleged violations, according to the Arizona Republic.

Osmers pointed out that Alper was using unlicensed Microsoft software in his classrooms for six months and had sold equipment without the proper paperwork. That could lead to the kind of financial inconsistencies that would make the district vulnerable in an audit, Osmers said.

Intentional disregard

Alper’s troubles began in 1997, when he donated $20,000 of his own money to benefit the school’s yearbook, television production program, and computer lab.

About $3,000 bought food for his students when they worked late, according to the letter. The rest was used to purchase computers, electronic equipment, cameras, lenses, and supplies.

According to district policy, all donations must be presented to the district governing board for approval and recorded in property records.

District officials also allege Alper bought computer items with student activity funds.

In his letter, acquired by eSchool News, Alper admitted to selling and trading computer equipment for new equipment. Alper has no records of the transactions, district officials said.

“This is not a situation caused by a ‘lack of awareness’ of, or ‘ignorance’ of, district procedures,” according to the charges against Alper. “You have intentionally disregarded district procedures because you find them ‘cumbersome.”‘

Because of this, Alper created serious inventory control problems that has thrown the district’s financial records into chaos, Merrill said.

But Alper’s attorney, Susan Sendrow, said the teacher attempted to get the proper paperwork.

“All things considered, his students were better off. And when confronted, he readily admitted his actions and cooperated with the administration,” Sendrow said.

Alper is working with district officials to arrange his suspension, Osmers said.

Tempe Unified High School District