Superintendent Disputes Aspects Of Police Case Against Teacher

By CHRIS BURRELL

Two months after a district court judge ordered a culinary arts teacher at the regional high school to pay back $20,000 he allegedly stole from the school, the Vineyard schools superintendent says he doubts aspects of the police investigation, including estimates of the money involved.

Superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash says he is convinced the teacher, Peter Koines, is actually paying back more money than he took.

Mr. Cash released a detailed accounting yesterday, claiming that Mr. Koines walked out of the regional high school with just under $1,500 worth of equipment - not the $7,000 in kitchen supplies that Oak Bluffs police calculated in July after they raided Mr. Koines' house with a search warrant and found numerous items belonging to the school.

In addition, Mr. Cash said, new evidence suggests money diverted from a student activity account was less than earlier thought.

"I wanted to find out what exactly was the extent of the misbehavior, and can it be quantified in any meaningful way," said Mr. Cash.

The end result? "His restitution at this time exceeds what can be proven,"said Mr. Cash.

In addition to this accounting, the superintendent sought to balance out Mr. Koines' misdeeds by releasing two other lists, these pointing to kitchen items that Mr. Koines had donated to the high school over some years - totaling $505 - and other items that he had solicited for the school in those years, totaling $3,755.

The move by Mr. Cash comes just days before the regional high school committee is set to hear the final terms of a resolution agreement between the school system and Mr. Koines. That meeting happens this Monday at 7 p.m. in the library conference room at the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School.

Yesterday, high school dean of students Michael Halt and teachers' union representative Doug Debettencourt drove a truck to Mr. Koines' house in Oak Bluffs and retrieved 10 stolen items, including a five-quart Kitchen-Aid mixer valued at $600, a stainless steel table and the 2,500-pound refrigerator.

Mr. Cash said he placed a depreciated value of $200 on the four-door, reach-in refrigerator because it was more than 25 years old.

The release of new information from the superintendent also comes a few weeks after finance committee members from Tisbury called for a full accounting of the case that came to light last June and led to the arrest of Mr. Koines.

"I want to reconcile what has gone on here, being sensitive to the investment here and fair to the taxpayers," said Mr. Cash. "But at the end of the day, it's just money. We've all learned important lessons. The main thing taken wasn't the money, but the trust. That's hard to replace."

When Mr. Koines stood in Edgartown District Court in late August, he admitted that he stole kitchen supplies and in addition diverted some $20,000 in student activity funds to his own use. He also admitted using high school purchase orders to buy pie fixings for the private pie business he operates in the summer at the West Tisbury Farmer's Market. Police estimated that fraud totaled $4,000.

His case was continued without a finding for 18 months - meaning Mr. Koines will have a clean record after that time if he meets the terms of his probation.

As part of the deal worked out with prosecutors, he was ordered to pay back $10,000 within 30 days and another $10,000 within 18 months. He was also ordered to serve 1,400 hours of community service in restitution for the $7,000 worth of equipment police and prosecutors said he took from the culinary arts department.

But the resolution agreement signed Monday by Mr. Koines, Mr. Cash and high school principal Peg Regan apparently lays out the terms in more detail. Mr. Cash said he would not release the full agreement before next week's meeting.

Mr. Koines will tender his resignation after 13 years of teaching. The resolution also paves the way for future payback if new evidence surfaces about more thefts.

The issue of Mr. Koines's pension, said Mr. Cash, now lies with the Massachusetts Teachers Retirement Board. He could be eligible for up to one-third of a fully-matured pension, somewhere between $10,000 and $12,000 a year, but that money would come from Mr. Koines' own contributions to the retirement fund, not from Island taxpayers, Mr. Cash said.

Mr. Cash said that the resolution agreement will make no allowances for any health insurance benefits. It is understood that regional high school committee members - who in closed session discussed terms of the resolution agreement while it was being drafted - adamantly opposed any deal that gave Mr. Koines health insurance coverage.

"My aim is to bring this matter to closure," said Mr. Cash. "Monday night, questions will be answered, and we will answer any lingering questions people may have."

Mr. Cash also cautioned that a deeper investigation and audit of school finances may not be worth the money it would cost, especially if it doesn't uncover any more theft. "It might be a case of diminishing returns," he said.

The superintendent is questioning much of what police determined in their investigation last summer.

He said that while police charged Mr. Koines with pocketing more than $19,000 over the last eight years from annual Martha's Vineyard Rod & Gun Club events catered by culinary students, that figure was not entirely accurate.

Mr. Cash said his investigation found that much of that money went to vendors and to students who worked for the events. "That quantification is important to the taxpayers," said Mr. Cash.

He also said police evidence about strawberry, peach and raspberry pie fillings ordered by Mr. Koines with school funds was "vague."

And Mr. Cash said he is now satisfied that receipts have been provided to cover $8,000 given to Mr. Koines in conjunction with a culinary arts student trip to Italy. Questions about that money had been raised by school auditors looking into the Koines affair last summer.

A formal audit of school finances is expected to be released at Monday's meeting, calling on the high school to tighten up its internal controls of finances, particularly when it comes to revolving accounts and money-making ventures undertaken by vocational departments.

Mr. Cash said his investigation sought to give a fuller and more truthful picture of Mr. Koines.

In his accounting of what Mr. Koines gave to the school - not took from it - Mr. Cash listed everything from soup bowls to a $5 meat mallet.

And in the list of items that Mr. Koines helped solicit for the culinary department, Mr. Cash listed a $900 chocolate tempering machine, a five-quart Hobart mixer valued at $550 and eight napkin dispensers valued at $5 each.

Mr. Cash is clearly anxious to put the controversy in the past.

Helping Islanders see another side of Mr. Koines is part of the picture. "With the community service," said the superintendent, "Mr. Koines has a good chance to restore that trust."