Updated at 9:35 p.m. May 18, 2012
Grossmont High School baseball coach Jim Earley, who resigned this week after ending the season with 20 straight losses, is under fire from a parent who accuses him of misusing money from the program and running a booster club that violates district rules.
In a Nov. 9, 2011, memo to Principal Dan Barnes, Danilo “Dan” Nesovic made a series of complaints, including:
- Misappropriation of baseball revenues
- Unlawful use of school district facilities
- Pay for play
- Illegal recruiting
- Violations of federal Title IX rules
The Grossmont Union High School District on Friday said Earley has retired, and East County Sports quoted Earley as saying: “I want to spend more time with my family, especially my two sons who are 9 and 10.”
But documents obtained by Patch indicate four-year head coach Earley, as president of a nonprofit called Blue and Gold Baseball Inc., handled money for the baseball program in apparent violation of district rules.
Earley, 40, wrote at least one check (see image in gallery) to the high school’s ASB account despite a district policy that says: “District employees cannot be officers or signatories for any booster/parent organization.”
For its part, the district says it has investigated the claims and found “no financial misappropriation of funds.”
“Whenever we discover or are made aware of any potential misconduct among our employees, we investigate fully and immediately,” district spokeswoman Catherine Martin said via email May 10, adding:
GUHSD has a strong, public track record of using appropriate law enforcement and legal channels to hold people accountable for their actions when they take money away from programs for our students. ... A thorough district review of this situation has revealed no evidence of misappropriations to date. If reports exist to the contrary, we would welcome the information.
Blue and Gold Baseball Inc. is a 501c(3) booster club that is entirely separate from the district.
Nesovic used the California Public Records Act to seek financial records on Grossmont baseball, since district policy says: “ALL booster organizations must submit financial statements showing actual revenues and expenditures twice a school year—December 31st and June 30th.”
So far, according to Nesovic, the district has provided a copy of a check, a list of expenses and revenues in the ASB account for the baseball team and various reports listing Blue and Gold Baseball as an approved booster club.
District officials Friday said the Blue and Gold nonprofit is among “legal entities outside the purview of the district and district oversight.”
But in minutes (see PDF) of the July 14, 2011, Grossmont district school board meeting, trustees approved “Booster Clubs, Foundations and Parent Organizations on the Attached List to Fundraise on Behalf of the Schools and Student They Represent.”
The list included Blue and Gold Baseball Inc., which according to another district-provided document was incorporated in 2009 as Foothiller Baseball Club Inc. with Rob Phillips as president.
Phillips was head Grossmont High baseball head coach for 12 years, ending in 2008. His teams won four consecutive CIF section titles.
Jeff Meredith, a former Grossmont High baseball coach and assistant principal, is a board member of Blue and Gold Baseball Inc., the 501(c)(3) nonprofit based at Earley’s home in Alpine that handles expenses for the baseball team.
In response to a Patch inquiry, Meredith said:
Blue and Gold Baseball Inc. is a California 501(c)(3) nonprofit public benefit corporation that supports local youth baseball. Blue and Gold is in good standing with the State of California and the California Attorney General, which is charged with overseeing all of California’s nonprofit organizations. The Board of Blue and Gold is committed to the company’s altruistic mission. It has independently investigated the allegations of misappropriation of Grossmont High School funds and determined these allegations to be without merit.
Nesovic’s son Robby was a star pitcher in the Foothillers’ 2011 season, which ended with a loss in the CIF Division I at SDSU’s Tony Gwynn Stadium.
Robby didn’t play for Earley this season in the wake of his father’s disagreements with Earley over coaching philosophies. Nesovic is also a baseball coach and has operated a youth club called Liberty Baseball.
In an interview with Patch, Nesovic explained the assertions in his memo about misappropriation. He told Patch that receipts from the snack bar at Joe Gizoni Field on campus were improperly given to Earley over a two-year period—the 2010 and 2011 seasons. He said he spoke with a “team mom” who was in charge of the snack bar.
“She can testify that she never deposited any of that money with the [school] ASB account,” Nesovic told Patch on May 4. “She said [in a phone chat] that all the money she gave, she gave to Coach Earley—and she was thinking he would do the right thing.”
The former team mom has declined to comment on these accusations.
Nesovic says the team mom kept records of snack bar receipts as well as sales of Grossmont gear such as T-shirts and caps.
“She has proof that money has not been put in the ASB account where it should be,” Nesovic said. “She would never give me any numbers. And she said she was afraid she would be liable for this.”
Nesovic says he has spoken to the District Attorney’s Office and the El Cajon Police Department, seeking an investigation. Nesovic also says he spoke several weeks ago to Grossmont athletic director Frank Foggiano, who told him he also spoke with the team mom.
According to Nesovic, Foggiano said the team mom confirmed a scenario in which Earley deposited snack-bar money to the ASB account that didn’t match the amounts the team mom had given Earley. Nesovic obtained examples of ASB accounts for the baseball program (see PDF).
The district has declined to make Foggiano available for an interview.
The baseball snack bar, called Patsy Earley’s Place, is dedicated to Jim’s mother, who died in 2008 after managing the concession stand for 21 years.
Friday afternoon, district spokeswoman Martin responded to a series of questions:
La Mesa-Mount Helix Patch: Does Grossmont High School have a baseball booster club? If so, what is the name of the club and who are its officers?
Catherine Martin: No, Grossmont High School does not have a baseball booster club. Blue & Gold Baseball Inc. (B&G) was not established as a booster club, but as a baseball club in order to facilitate baseball in the off-season (per CIF guidelines). B&G is a non-District 501(c)(3) organization, which is legally separate from the District.
However, we have required B&G to follow the guidelines as a booster because they ran the GHS baseball concession stands during the in-season.
Patch: According to Guidelines for Boosters Clubs, the “board requires parent and/or booster clubs and organizations to have a written statement of purpose and bylaws.” Does the district have this written statement? If so, may we please see it?
Martin: B&G is not a booster (see #1).
Patch: If B&G Baseball Inc. is not a district-affiliated 501c3, then why is a district employee (Jim Earley) signing checks made out to a district program (Grossmont Baseball)?
Martin: See attached document. None of the 501(c)(3) organizations (booster and otherwise) are district-affiliated. They are all separate legal entities outside the purview of the District and District oversight.
Patch: Who controls/distributes/deposits the revenue from concessions at Grossmont baseball games? Where and how does that money ultimately get deposited?
Martin: Currently, B&G is in charge of the concession sales and expenditures at Grossmont baseball games. For the current year, the funds are all being deposited into the ASB account. Prior to this year, the funds were divided between the B&G and the ASB. B&G was responsible for the revenue distribution as well as expenditures.
Patch: What specifically has the district done in response to complaints from Dan Nesovic, parent of a former player with the Grossmont program?
Martin: Both school and District officials have met with Mr. Nesovic. As mentioned earlier, the District auditor conducted an investigation and found no financial misappropriation of funds. We’ve required detailed information for the concession stand sales and have required that there be no financial activity in the B&G account during the in-season to ensure there are no questions as to the ownership of any funds being deposited. We have received the detailed information for the concession deposits and will request financial records at the close of the season as well.
Patch: Why is the Grossmont baseball program not having an annual Senior Awards Banquet this year?
Martin: The baseball coach has retired. He held some activities during practice that were meant to be fun for the players as they wrapped up this season.
Patch obtained tax records for Blue and Gold Baseball Inc. for 2008, 2009 and 2010, with Earley listed as president. (See PDFs in gallery.) But according to district guidelines, a booster club must be led by parents and not pay any district employees.
Blue and Gold Baseball also operates grossmontbaseball.com, which includes a Booster page and lists corporate and family donors. The site is run by Connie Earley, wife of the coach, according to domain-name registration records.
Martin also turned down Patch requests for in-person interviews with Earley, schools Superintendent Ralf Swenson and district auditor Andrienne “Andi” Loree.
John Labeta, the CIF San Diego assistant commissioner, told Patch last week that he had talked to Nesovic but had heard no complaints from any other Grossmont High baseball parent.
Labeta said CIF has no policy on booster club fund-raising, but said: “A lot of that is regulated by CASBO [California Association of School Business Officials]. So it’s not regulated by CIF as much as it is by a government agency.”
Asked what CIF does when a parent complains, Labeta said: “Usually, we contact the schools, and that will lead to the schools contacting their own district—or reviewing their own district policies to see if there were any violations. We would come out if we felt there were things that were violating CIF policies, and we would meet with the school and discuss those types of situations.”
But CIF didn’t see a need to investigate Grossmont baseball, Labeta said in a phone interview.
“The school district is doing the investigation and doing some follow through,” he said. “I think they’ve come up with some conclusions and obviously there’s some policies that I think they need to review.”
In the East County Sports report posted Friday, site founder Bill Dickens wrote: “Some might say Earley was run out of town by some overzealous parents, who wanted to take the upper hand in the baseball program. All these individuals did was disrupt the program, sending it into a downward spiral.”
Dickens then quoted Earley as saying: “Over the past year, my program has been through extreme craziness, nothing I would wish on any of you. I am sure there will be some erroneous things said about my departure. Know I am leaving of my own accord. My administration has been awesome.”
In June 2008, East County Sports reported Earley’s Foothiller pedigree:
A 1990 graduate of Grossmont, Earley has been an assistant coach with Phillips throughout his tenure and was the junior varsity head coach under now-vice principal JEFF MEREDITH for four years prior to that.
“I’ve been around here long enough to pretty much know how things run at Grossmont,” said Earley, who has taught mathematics and physical education at the school the past 10 years. “I’m looking forward to being in charge of the baseball program.”
Nesovic, in one of several interviews with Patch, said: “I want to emphasize that in spite of all the bad feelings … all I ever wanted was to have things done the right way.”