Ohio

Eye on Education

Former Maple Heights School Board Member Sentenced in Cuyahoga County Corruption Case

Sandy Klimkowski served on the Maple Height school board until 1995.

Courtesy U.S. Attorney's Office

Sandy Klimkowski served on the Maple Height school board until 2005.

A federal judge sentenced former Maple Heights school board member Sandy Klimkowski to four years in prison and ordered her to pay restitution of $207,302 today in connection with the Cuyahoga County corruption case.

The restitution includes more than $83,000 due to the Maple Heights school district.

In addition to serving on the Maple Heights school board, Klimkowski also worked as an assistant to former Cuyahoga County Auditor Frank Russo.

Klimkowski admitted to channeling more than $1 million in bribes to Russo, using school money for personal purchases and accepting home improvements and other kickbacks for helping contractors get Maple Heights school business, WKSU reports.

Four other Maple Heights administrators admitted to stealing money or goods from the school district or other charges related to the corruption case and have already been sentenced.

Maple Heights is still struggling to recover from the depredations.

WKSU’s M.L. Schultze reports that in the years after initial news of the corruption investigation broke, the district couldn’t convince voters to approve a tax levy:

Then came the FBI raids in July of 2008, triggering “a lot of really just shock that some of these things would occur and that people would take advantage of the school district and children,” Superintendent Charlie Keenan said.

That pretty much spelled the end for new money for the district. In an already tough environment for any school issue in Ohio, Maple Heights voters trounced an income tax on the May 2011 ballot. And that meant layoffs and a lot of other cuts.

The cuts totaled $2.5 million. “Program, staff, transportation. Talking about the trust in the community — you know I think if they would have had trust, maybe we would have had a better shot at passing (a new tax issue) and it wouldn’t impact the kids the way it does. So there’s auxiliary things that you can’t say this situation we went through fully caused, but it had an impact on,” Keenan said.

But now some parents say their views of the Maple Heights schools are improving:

Parents like Pequita Hansberry, whose daughter is in eighth grade, say things are changing for the better; and that began even before the FBI raids in the summer of 2008.

“I was glad to see it come out. I was glad to see it dismantled and moved out of the system. I’ve been kind of watching Dr. Keenan. He’s been great. The new schools board’s been great. And then when that corruption came out, it was like, ‘OK, now they can really move forward.’”

When Maple Heights built its new schools, the administration converted one of the old elementaries into its new headquarters. The move happened a year ago. But you wouldn’t know it sitting stepping into Superintendent Keenan’s office: very obviously an old classroom with barren concrete floors. Keenan says these days, the district focuses its money where it belongs: on students.

Read more about the ongoing impact of the Cuyahoga County corruption case on the Maple Heights schools here.

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