After two years at the center of turmoil, at one point facing firing and felony charges, Suncoast High School band director Ernest Brown was suspended for 10 days without pay today by the Palm Beach County School Board.
Superintendent Wayne Gent recommended firing Brown last May after he was indicted by a grand jury on charges of conducting an organized scheme to defraud and official misconduct. He had been accused of running up thousands of dollars in debt on school band accounts for two European field trips in 2007 and 2008 and spent $15,000 in band money to take several relatives on those trips.
After protests by Brown’s supporters last May, his proposed firing was put on hold. Supporters accused the school district and former State Attorney Michael McAuliffe of racism for trying to prosecute and fire Brown last year.
“The district has learned a lot from this process,” General Counsel Sheryl Wood said as the board voted unanimously to accept Brown’s suspension and end the discipline case against him. Brown also will have to undergo ethics and district policy training and will not be allowed to do any fundraising without the approval of an area superintendent, Wood said.
Since its original hearing, the district has reviewed documents that showed that no students were denied an opportunity to go on the Paris field trip and that the family members who went on the trip performed band-related functions, Wood said.
“It was decided that corrective action, albeit not a termination, would still be recommended,” she said.
No board members or members of the public spoke about the settlement. Brown’s attorney, Tom Johnson, declined to comment Tuesday and Brown did not attend the school board meeting.
Brown has continued to work as director for the popular Suncoast High School Chargersonic band as his case progressed. Wood did not say when his suspension would take effect.
The State Attorney’s Office had asked the district to hold off on disciplining Brown while the criminal case was pending, Wood said. In February, the state dropped all criminal charges against Brown.
In 2010, then-Superintendent Art Johnson had recommended suspending Brown for seven days without pay.