There's one thing all sides agree on regarding the charges leveled against Hesperia Unified Superintendent Mark McKinney: In 2009, McKinney did, indeed, tell school police chief Mike Graham not to pursue a criminal investigation against those who may have mishandled student government funds at Sultana High School. Instead, McKinney preferred to deal with it as a personnel matter.


The report from private investigator Ed Saucerman, who was brought in to investigate allegations made by Graham at the March 28, 2011 school board meeting that McKinney's interference constituted a criminal act, illuminates a conflict within the district as to what the role of the HUSD's police force ought to be.


"Superintendent McKinney's employment contract does not grant him 'peace officer powers,'" Saucerman's report reads in part. "However ... the superintendent has primary responsibility for any necessary investigations of suspected fraud, impropriety, or irregularity, in coordination with legal counsel, the district's auditors, law enforcement agencies, or government entities as appropriate." But, "policy does not provide Superintendent McKinney with the authority to determine what crimes to investigate or to make decisions regarding criminal investigation."


Ultimately, that led Saucerman to label Graham's allegations as "sustained," although he stressed that his investigation was not a criminal investigation.


"Is there value in screaming 'it's criminal, it's criminal, it's criminal,' when it's a personnel issue?" said school board president Chris Bentley. "In my mind, who determines that is the superintendent."


The problem appears to stem from differing expectations by board members and the officers.


In the police department's manual, which Graham had implemented prior to the 2009 incident, page 94 states in part that "the fact that a victim is not desirous of prosecution is not an exception to documenting a report. ... In every instance where a felony has occurred, the documentation shall take the form of a written crime report."


The board never approved the department's manual, according to Bentley.


"I don't have the manpower or resources to investigate everything that happens," McKinney said. (In fact, the district's police force is shrinking: One officer was cut from the department in the new school year and the remaining officers' work year reduced from 11 months to 10.5.)


Not everyone on the board agrees: Minority board member Hardy Black said fellow board members want "the school police relegated to the school site with blinders on."


School police should be free, he said, for instance, to pull over a motorist who runs a red light, even if the incident is nowhere near an HUSD campus.


Those campuses, according to Bentley, are where taxpayers want HUSD funds to be spent, rather than on Main Street.


"I would like to see our police keep our kids, staff and property safe at the time we are there," he said. "But it costs a lot of money to do that.


"Do we want a police officer on each middle school campus? How much do we want to spend on this, when the money we get from the state is supposed to go to educating kids?"


Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 760-956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com. Follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/Hesperia.Star.