NORTH ST. LOUIS COUNTY, MO – The Hazelwood School District referred to a public meeting Monday as a name clearing opportunity for the former athletic director of Hazelwood Central High School. The district said John Pukala and his attorney requested the opportunity to refute accusations made against the popular coach.
Pukala was offered a demotion that would have resulted in a $40,000 a year pay cut and the loss of a $200,000 retirement bonus. His attorney maintains the demotion was the direct result of his client blowing the whistle on money missing from an activities fund.
Pukala did not speak during the hearing but his attorney told the board members that his client did not need to clear his name. Attorney John Lynch said his client already has plenty of public support and has already accepted a job with another school.
Pukala faced several accusations including the claim he did not immediately report suspicions of money missing from the fund. His attorney said his client reported the findings to the school principal. Lynch claims it was that principal who was taking money from the fund. That principal resigned. Lynch said that principal even paid restitution. Lynch maintains that principal has friends in high places in the district, leading to the demotion of Pukala.
Supporters of Pukala packed a recent board meeting but were unable to speak before the board because in the Hazelwood School District the public comment sessions are limited to items on the agenda. Several supporters wore t-shirts with #teampukala on the front Monday night.
“John never should have been treated like he did for doing the right thing and you can see from all the publicity that he’s an all-around good guy,” said retired teacher Cheryl Heppermann.
“He has a lot of support,” said former Pukala co-worker Amy Shelton. “You can see it at the board meetings.”
Lynch and Pukala declined an invitation for an on-camera interview. Lynch said his client plans on filing a lawsuit against the Hazelwood School District.
The district released a statement prior to the meeting indicating they do not publicly discuss personnel matters but in this case Pukala requested the hearing.