Being a parent, board member, student or teacher at Destin High School appeared to be a high-stress proposition at Destin High School emergency meeting on May 12 at 1 pm. The School’s leadership and parents discussed everything. Whether is was accusations of financial impropriety, the schools running deficit, a student-run Facebook group which was formed to defend teachers who allegedly threatened to leave the school, or the athletic director – it got discussed briefly in the short meeting.
A second after the meeting was called to order – a board member requested it adjourn – “nothing ris[es] to the level of an emergency meeting, I’d like the meeting, I’d like to make a motion to adjourn.”
“We’re coming up on two years of existence as a school,” DHS Principal Christine Cruickshank told the crowd, “But here we are about to graduate the first class of Destin High School… Mistakes have been made,” the principal said as her voice broke – on the verge of tears. “We are in some challenging times, finances are tight. Mistakes have been made. These are growing pains of a young school.”
Rumblings began a few weeks ago when a new Facebook page called Destin Students United surfaced. The Page, which has about 75 followers on the social media site, seems to be dedicated to the support of several DHS teachers. The page claims several teachers signed a petition asking for the removal of a board member and spoke at a Destin High School Board workshop on May 8 and again at a regular meeting on May 9.
“As a parent, I don’t even know if the diploma my daughter gets when she walks the stage next Friday night is going to be legitimate. They’re not accredited,” A parent said on the condition of anonymity.
A note: Destin High School is a candidate for accreditation with multiple accreditation agencies. Christine Cruickshank, the principal Destin High School says that they had their accreditation visit this March and expect to receive full accredition when the Cognia accreditation board has its next biannual meeting in June.
Students have already been shut out of the matter – per Principal Cruickshank,”I’ve already addressed this with staff, individually, one-on-one. There is to be no communication in the classroom with the students about the adult’s situations. They were told, by me, along with another staff member or administrator with me, that if I got wind of it, if I heard that it was occurring, that if it was happening, and it was teachers and staff – that there would be discipline, severe disciplinary action taken on that person.”
Additionally, Cruickshank told the board she had started to move against parents who’ve complained on social media about the school’s situation. “I have asked and will continue to ask parents who have things on social media to remove it so that we can move forward together. It needs to be shut down. It needs to stop,” she added, “We cannot work together if this does not stop across the board.”
Cruickshank later clarified in a call with Mid Bay News that she does not want to stop people from speaking on social media – and emphasized that she wants information to be “accurate”.
Heidi LoCicero, a Destin High School board member (a volunteer position), asked questions about the school’s morale and finances. Off the bat – LoCicero asked if any teachers had resigned from the school. “Has the staff expressed a desire to continue working with you and our board to move past these stumbling blocks?”
“They’re praying for that, yes, Ma’am,” Cruickshank said.
“We have a separation of church and state, so I’m going to take that as a yes,” LoCicero replied.
LoCicero moved on to financial questions. “In your audit of your books and your changeover from our former business service provider, have you uncovered any opportunities where the staff of Destin High School stole money from the high school?
“Based off the records we’ve seen, no,” was the response from the financial team.
“Have you uncovered any information that the treasure of our board has stolen any money?” LoCicero continued,
“Based on what we’ve seen, no,” was the response.
Finally, LoCicero asked if it was normal for a new charter school to have financial issues.
“If I can be completely honest, it’s normal in a seasoned school to have budgetary issues,” was the answer.
LoCicero then asked if it was true that teachers’ salaries were being cut. “No” was the answer.
According to the school’s latest financial audit – by McCrady and Associates in November of 2022 – the school had roughly four million dollars in revenues and six million dollars in expenses in its last reporting period, resulting in a two million dollar deficit. Much of the expenses can be attributed to purchasing a school building for roughly three million dollars. The school reported net assets.
“I’ve heard this is the third separate financial company [the school] has used in two years,” said a parent who spoke on condition of anonymity, “Parents are in the back of the room saying that what was being said [by board members] was not true.”
According to school leadership – two business service providers have been contracted with the school – School Financical Services (the current provider) and Red Apple Business Services.
After Principal Cruickshank and board member LoCicero spoke – the meeting was quickly called to an end.
One parent and donor, who called himself Eric, claimed that the school treasurer “discovered the lack of financial oversight” at the school. “She sounded the alarm. We brought in a new financial management company to help untangle the mess. At Monday’s meeting, we learned that despite the funding freeze, the principal continued to accrue large expenditures and that the school is operating at a deficit. It also became apparent that the athletic director has a serious issue with the spending freeze – as well as the treasurer. Not sure why.” The speaker then called for removing Phil Dorn, the Athletic director.
On May 26th, 59 Seniors at Destin High School will graduate.
The school continues to grow rapidly. In 21-22, the school had 283 students. Next year, administration projects roughly 650 students will attend.
What’s more – the failure of Destin High School – with a current enrollment 470 students in the 22-23 school year- would require those students to return to schools in Okaloosa County School District – many of which are near or at capacity.
Long story short – if you want less overcrowding at Niceville High School, you should be rooting for Destin’s success.
Destin High School is a charter school in Okaloosa County. A charter school is a public school with free admission but is governed by an independent governing board instead of the Okaloosa County School Board. Because of this, Destin High School claims to have more flexibility. According to their website, Destin High School submitted its charter application to the Okaloosa County School District on February 1, 2019, and the Okaloosa County School Board approved the application by unanimous vote on October 28, 2019. Destin High School opened to students in August 2021.