RIVIERA BEACH, FL (WFLX) - A popular high school band director faces suspension and possibly more disciplinary action. Investigators discovered he used school funds to pay for family members and other people, who were not part of the band, to travel to Europe.
From all accounts Ernest Brown is a dedicated band director, liked by parents, students and staff members. But school district officials grew suspicious when his band accounts racked up a deficit of more than $100,000, and other school groups had to pay to make up the difference.
Suncoast High School's band is known as one of the best around and best traveled. The group made a big trip to London in 2008 causing a $62,000 deficit according to a school district audit. Moreover, another band trip to Paris, the year before, caused a $45,000 deficit.
Questions about the band finances sparked an investigation into book keeping practices and band director Ernest Brown. "He's a wonderful band instructor. You know people bring their kids here just because Mr. Brown is here, and the program is here at the school," said Carol Smith.
Her son went on the 2008 trip to London, and she says it's hard to believe Mr. Brown would misuse almost $15,000 of school funds to pay for his wife, two daughters, son, niece, nephew, select band parents and other people, who weren't part of the band, to travel overseas.
"I don't believe it. I really don't believe it. I don't see him doing it ever," said Smith.
But the audit also shows that then principal Dr. Gloria Crutchfield balanced the $107,000 deficit with money from other school groups.
School staff members tell us Brown was still working at school Tuesday, but he would not come out to speak with us.
A letter from him was included in the audit saying in part, "We came up short of fund raising over half a million dollars, but we will continue our focus to make up this short fall."