Controversy erupts over demotion of Hazelwood Central’s athletics director

NORTH ST. LOUIS COUNTY, MO (KTVI) - Outrage in one of St. Louis County`s largest school districts.  The Hazelwood Central High School Activities and Athletics Director, who was a long-time football coach at the school is losing his job.

Supporters are now rallying to his side to help him keep his job.

A Hazelwood School District board member tells Fox 2 400-500 people are expected to show up at Tuesday night`s board meeting in support of John Pukala.  This comes on the heels of the State Auditor launching an audit of district finances and the surprise resignation of the Hazelwood Central High School principal.

This is Hazelwood Central Activities & Athletics Director John Pukala, with then-principal, Dr. Audrey Lee.  Pukala`s attorney Says early in the school year, Pukala noticed a recurrence of missing money from a student activities fund going back more than a year.  He first notified principal Lee and later district security.  St. Louis County Police confirm the district conducted an internal investigation, but police were not involved.

In November, the district notified staff that Dr. Lee was resigning, but gave no reason.

Five months later, Pukala, a Hazelwood Central alum, football standout, state champion coach and 28-year school employee is being demoted.  His attorney says he`s been offered a demotion to gym teacher with a corresponding $40,000 a year pay cut -- 33% of his salary.

Mark Behlmann, a school board member-elect said, “Students have been seeing it on Facebook.  Students are coming out.  Students will be here tonight in support of this guy.  He has touched so many children and that`s what we`re all about. “John`s done that his entire life.  He went to school here.  He grew up in this community and just to throw somebody out, it only leads me to believe that it`s a vindictive move”.

A district spokeswoman says the superintendent has no comment because these are personnel matters.  The school board president has not responded to us yet, and we`ve been unable to reach Audrey Lee.  Tonight`s meeting starts at 6:30 at the district headquarters.