WINTER HAVEN, Fla. - On Tuesday afternoon, the baseball team at Winter Haven High School practiced for the district playoffs, but no amount of practice could have prepared them for the loss of their head coach.
Facing termination, coach David Saliba abruptly resigned April 12 and now we know the reason why. A Polk County School District investigation shows that Saliba put money from concession stand sales into a personal bank account.
"There were concerns, because money had not been deposited into a booster account," says Principal Gina Williams.
Saliba was a respected coach and teacher at the school for nearly 30 years, so Williams, who launched the initial audit, says this has been a difficult time for both students and staff. "Because you still care about the people that it involves," says Williams. "However, there are policies and rules that have to be followed."
A memo to school board members from a district auditor states that Saliba engaged in "serious misconduct" by disobeying specific instructions from his supervisor, failing to follow established procedures for handling and depositing funds, and operating the concession sales as a "personal venture." Investigators estimate Saliba pocketed $20,000 over the past three years.
The school district's findings have prompted a separate investigation by the economic crimes unit at the Polk County State Attorney's Office.
Parents picking up their children at the school say when they purchase concessions, they expect to be helping the kids. "You'd think it would go back into the school, not someone's personal pocket," said George Wilkins.
Saliba answered the door at his Winter Haven home Tuesday, but had no comment for a 10 News reporter.
Back at Winter Haven High, the game must go on, so on Wednesday night cheerleaders will run the concession stand.