MARIETTA - Talk radio host Neal Boortz spurred Cobb School executives into action Tuesday, after he read a letter from an east Cobb lawyer alleging that money raised for the family of Karla Campos was being diverted.
The Cobb Schools Foundation has raised more than $30,000 since Karla, 5, a kindergartener at Mountain View Elementary, was hit by a car and killed Dec. 9 as she stepped off her school bus in the afternoon on Davis Road. Sheri Brante, the foundation's executive director, assured media Tuesday afternoon at a press conference that about $5,000 of the money raised has gone to pay family bills, $2,900 went to pay for a headstone on Karla's grave, and the Foundation will release the remaining money once it gets a letter from the Campos family regarding how they want those funds dispersed.
The foundation is a separate entity from the school district, although the foundation offices are housed inside the district's central office on Glover Street in Marietta.
Just after 9 a.m. Tuesday, Boortz read a letter that east Cobb lawyer Bill Claxton sent on Jan. 17 to Superintendent Fred Sanderson, Foundation Director Sheri Brante and Mountain View Principal Angela Huff.
"It appears that the Cobb School district injected itself into efforts to collect money for the direct benefit of the Campos Family by independent sources and convinced these media outlets to divert those funds intended to help Mr. and Mrs. Campos to the Cobb School System instead," Claxton wrote. "I hope I am wrong, but it has been more than a month since Karla's death and the Campos' have yet to receive any funds from the Cobb Schools."
Boortz also chatted on-air with Claxton, who reiterated that he was not representing the family and had nothing to gain.
"I just want to see the right thing done," Claxton said.
The district responded Tuesday morning by providing copies of the Campos' bills that had been paid, and later by disputing Claxton's allegations in the afternoon news conference.
At the news conference, Brante said, "From the moment the horrible accident occurred, teachers and administrators of Mountain View, along with the Foundation have been by the family's side to assist whatever needs they may have. The foundation has been instrumental in raising funds, organizing donations and staying in constant contact with the Campos to see to any needs they may have."
"To date about $30,000 to $31,000 has been raised, and of that just more than $7,900 has been dispersed for bills and a permanent grave marker," she said.
She and district leaders met with Martin Campos on Jan. 19 to discuss other options for the money, including a potential trust for the Campos' two surviving children.
"It was decided that the Campos family wanted to manage the funds on their own, and I asked them to put in writing how they wanted the funds dispersed."
Brante said that when she receives that letter, the funds will be dispersed "immediately."
Karla's parents, Martin and Gloria, with their two younger children - one of them only a few months old - stood behind Brante during the news conference and expressed their gratitude for the community's support. They answered questions with the help of a Spanish interpreter from Shallowford Falls Elementary.
"There is not any problem," with the way the donations have been handled, Martin Campos said through the interpreter. "It was just a misunderstanding."
The Campos' attorney, Chris Simon, of the Buckhead-based Simon and Faenza personal-injury firm, said the family is not upset with how the money has been spent - and would rather draw attention to the preventable problem of elderly drivers who should not be behind the wheel.
Simon said he would probably deliver written instructions for the disbursement today. "The foundation has done nothing untoward whatsoever," he said.
Said Brante, "Knowing that Mr. Boortz's extremely popular radio show has been a major generator of donations to this very worthwhile cause, I am sure he will do what is necessary to correct the record of issue."
As for Claxton, whom she referred to as "the source of the false information," Brante said she hoped he would "step forward and apologize to the teachers, administrators and community members who have given so selflessly of their time and assets to help the family through this most difficult time."
Claxton, who has already arranged to call into Boortz's radio show this morning, said the issue arose when his paralegal, Beverly Dickinson - whose child also attends Mountain View - inquired with the school and school board member David Banks about the donations, and was told via a Jan. 16 e-mail from principal Huff that, "Sheri Brante will be meeting with me along with other County representatives to make final decisions on donated monies. A suggestion has been given to set up educational trusts for the two children, purchasing a permanent memorial at the graveyard, etc."
Banks replied to Dickinson's inquiries that same day, writing, "I understand that the money is being used to help the Campos family and to set up an educational fund for their two children."
Huff said the educational fund was one option given to the family, but that no such funds have been or will be set up.