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PROVO — The Provo School District suspended Timpview High head football coach Louis Wong without pay late Tuesday pending termination.
Wong has the right to a hearing appealing the decision within 15 days. Otherwise, he'll be fired from his teaching position and coaching position in 30 days.
Wong met with Timpview High School Principal Todd McKee and interim human resources director Cindy Wright Tuesday at the Provo School District offices. In that meeting he had an opportunity to respond to issues that were raised by financial investigations conducted by the Provo School District and the Utah State Office of Education.
Wong left that meeting without commenting.
The action comes after months of investigations at the state and district level. Questions about financial practices by the coach and the school's administration arose last year during fundraising efforts for a state-of-the-art weight room on the school's campus.
Further questions arose after McKee was hired to replace George Bayles as principal last summer. Bayles retired at the end of the 2011 school year.
Those questions spawned a number of investigations, including an audit conducted by the State Office of Education, which was requested by former Provo Superintendent Randy Merrill in October.
While that audit was completed at the end of February, State Superintendent Larry Shumway refused to make the findings public citing GRAMA exceptions that allowed officials to protect any documents that might interfere with ongoing investigations.
• Expenditures to Universal Athletics for uniforms that totaled $19,923.13 without first acquiring bids.
• Expenditures to Yardworx that totaled $14,680, which allegedly were acquired without bids and using split invoices in a possible attempt to avoid the bidding process.
• Personal car repairs for Wong, who is also a driver's education teacher, totaling $650.46.
• Expenditures on meals for coaches and/or players totaling $12,820.
• A reimbursement request from former principal Bayles for airfare for his wife to Atlanta. The request for $358 was approved, but the signature is illegible.
The state auditors did share their findings with district officials and Provo School Board members. After learning of the state's findings, the board conducted its own investigation of Timpview's financial records, especially its football program. That investigation is still in progress, according to district officials.
Still, a friend to Wong and fellow coach is defending the coach. He told KSL News Wong never intended to do anything wrong, he just didn't have enough guidance.
"That audit uncovered the fact that there has been very little direction — if any — given to Coach Wong and other coaches in the Provo school district," said Todd Cusick, volunteer assistant coach at Timpview High School.
Because the investigation is ongoing, district officials said there could be disciplinary actions taken against other school employees.
KSL News obtained a number of financial records that were not part of the audit, but show that the district was concerned about finances in the Timpview football program. Those include reimbursement requests for personal expenses, reimbursement requests for unapproved purchases and an alleged failure to follow the district's purchasing policy and the state's procurement act.
All of the documents examined by KSL News were approved by administrators, including Bayles, assistant principal Brad Monks, and assistant principal Rene Cunningham. The signatures on more than a dozen of the reimbursement requests or expenditure authorizations were illegible.
The investigation examined $141,926.46, but focused on $114,567 of that total that officials found troublesome.
Because the investigation is ongoing, district officials declined to comment on Wong's possible firing. According to Provo School District policies, Wong is entitled to file a grievance within 15 days of his suspension. The district is required to give employees 30 days' notice of termination.
Wong told KSL News after a board hearing in December that he welcomed more guidance from the district on fundraising and donations. He also said he never did anything without his principal's approval.
When asked about that, district business manager Kerry Smith said the accounting issues under investigation were not confined to the football program.
“It was definitely a cultural issue at Timpview High School that we need to correct,” Smith said Tuesday.
He said in looking at other programs and the district's other high school, Provo High, investigators didn't find the same financial concerns.
“Our investigation yielded no indication that this is a district-wide problem,” Smith said.
In suspending and possibly firing Wong, the district cuts ties with one of the winningest coaches in state history.
Wong was hired as head coach of the Timpview football program in 2005. During that time he amassed an unprecedented 77-10 record (.885 winning percentage) in seven seasons, and the team was region champion or co-region champion every season that he coached. He also won state football titles in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009.
Wong was 20-3 in playoff contests. His .897 winning percentage is tops all-time in Utah.
Under him, Timpview won 36 straight football games from 2006-2009, which is a Utah state record.
Meanwhile, Cusick says the district needs more policies and guidance for coaches like Wong. He worries that Wong is being made an example of for all the wrong reasons.
"I think the support (Wong is receiving) is evidence of his impact for good on the kids that he's taught, on the kids that he's coached," Cusick said. "He has a tremendous following because he's done an excellent job at building young men."