Indianapolis teachers union leader’s debit card case referred to grand jury

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The Marion County Grand Jury will now consider the case of an Indianapolis teachers union chief accused of misusing an association debit card for up to $150,000 in unauthorized withdrawals.

Indianapolis Education Association President Rhondalyn Cornett resigned her post last Thursday after officials from the Indiana State Teachers Association confronted her about the suspected misspending.

“There were no check and balances of how debit card was being used,” an IMPD initial report filed last Friday quotes ISTA Executive Director Dan Holub. “The audit went back to 2014…there had been $100,000 to $150,000 of withdrawals up to 2018.

“At first she was defiant about it,” the report quotes Holub after he confronted Cornett, “but when she was shown the audit she admitted to the unauthorized withdrawals that she made.”

After a visit to Cornett’s house, the former union head told FOX59 that she had no comment.

Holub was also unavailable for comment after it was learned that ISTA was told of the debit card irregularities by an IEA member last June but didn’t complete its investigation or inform IMPD until after last Tuesday’s passage of the IPS tax referendum which granted the district an additional $272 million in revenue.

“I found that very odd because it came out after the referendum and the timing is kind of surprising to me because there was all this back and forth about how much IPS was asking for,” said Shawnta Barnes, a former IPS teacher who blogs and publishes frequently about education issues. “Like the one day the referendum passed, everyone was excited about it, and then two days later there’s a negative story.”

IEA was similarly not available for comment and how the alleged misuse of the union debit card could go unnoticed for so long and the suspected fraud could reach such a high amount.

“It is shocking to me to hear that this much money is unaccounted for and there’s really no checks and balances in place because I don’t understand how someone or how money could be mismanaged for that long and no one would notice what was happening,” said Barnes. “Most organizations has a person that is the treasurer so what was the treasurer doing, how did anyone else not know, was anybody else involved? So those are the questions that are popping up in my mind.”

IPS Board of Commissioners President Michael O’Connor said that while the board and the administration have no direct oversight of the union’s internal financial accountability, “This is why we are committed to financial transparency.”

O’Connor said the district is also committed to helping its teachers reach pay equity with other districts.

Barnes said she had known Cornett while growing up in church together.

“In church she was also part of managing our scholarship fund to send off kids to school and just hearing these two things just doesn’t line up with the person that I believe that she is.”

IPS is just now beginning talks with teachers on how to best utilize the additional revenues granted by the tax increase approved by votes.