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Published in Print: April 11, 2001, as Student Sparks Probe of Local Superintendent, Wins Election to Board

Student Sparks Probe of Local Superintendent, Wins Election to Board

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Meet 18-year-old Seth Konkel: high school senior, aspiring illusionist, elected school board member—and the kid who forced his town's schools superintendent out of office.

As Mr. Konkel won a seat on the Haysville, Kan., board last week, police officially opened an investigation into credit card charges run up by the superintendent.

Thanks to the student's inquiries, the board granted Superintendent Lynn Stevens a paid leave of absence last month. He will retire from the 4,000-student district on July 1, and the board has named Assistant Superintendent Kristen Swartzendruber as acting superintendent.

With all the attention from local newspapers and TV stations, Mr. Konkel said he didn't have much time to campaign. Still, he was elected, receiving 1,470 votes, more than any of the other winners.

He regrets, however, that the publicity might have overshadowed other important issues that voters should have considered. "The people who are voting today are unfortunately voting on this issue," he said last week of the superintendent's expenses. "It's definitely affected the election."

He decided last fall to run for the board after his 18th birthday, the minimum age allowed by Kansas law. He was inspired by his mother, who serves on the Haysville City Council.

Serious about his candidacy, he started attending board meetings in the district just outside Wichita. One night, he spotted an extra packet of documents prepared for a board member, and asked if he could have them. He received permission.

He leafed through the papers and came across Mr. Stevens' bill for his district-issued credit card. The monthly bill was for more than $11,000, Mr. Konkel said.

Then he started asking questions. He requested copies of credit card bills from the previous two years, and he believes he discovered more questionable charges: "There were meals charged almost every day, including the weekend, and sometimes twice a day."

There also were hundreds of dollars in charges for office supplies and for hotel rooms in Las Vegas, New Orleans, and the Kansas City area, he said.

"One meal was $415, and he left a $100 tip," Mr. Konkel said.

Attempts to reach Mr. Stevens were unsuccessful.

'Eager To Cooperate'

School board members receive all official requests for documents, so they were alerted to Mr. Konkel's findings. Susan Walston, the board president, read a statement on behalf of the board during its meeting March 19, when members accepted a letter from Mr. Stevens stating his intention to retire.

"It is a tragedy that the actions of one individual have been allowed to cast a shadow over our school district," Ms. Walston stated. "We have had and will continue to have quality programs for our students."

Ms. Walston said the retiring superintendent had agreed to work with an auditor hired by the district to examine any questions about spending.

"Dr. Stevens has advised that he is eager to cooperate with the audit to the fullest extent, and should the audit disclose inappropriate personal expenditures, he will reimburse the district promptly," she said.

Local affairs, meanwhile, aren't Mr. Konkel's only interest. He is the student body president at Campus High School in Haysville, a "yell leader," or cheerleader, and the editor of the school newspaper, The Colt Special. He performs magic shows, and wants to be a professional illusionist.

Until then, Mr. Konkel plans to graduate from high school while serving on the school board. He will attend nearby Wichita State University.

Vol. 20, Issue 30, Page 10

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