Destin High School battles financial issues amid tension between teachers and governing board

Destin High School is trying to navigate financial issues and internal conflicts as the 2022-23 school year comes to a close. The issues, according to a recent board workshop, stem […]

Destin High School is trying to navigate financial issues and internal conflicts as the 2022-23 school year comes to a close. The issues, according to a recent board workshop, stem from unchecked spending, missed budgetary projections, and a contentious relationship between the school board and school staff.

In late 2022, the school’s financial troubles came to light. Despite a spending freeze initiated by Treasurer and Board Member Sarah Stone earlier this year, checks allegedly continued to be written for expenses up to $5,000. According to discussion at the workshop on May 8, the Principal is authorized to write checks for amounts under $5,000. All invoices over $5,000 have to be approved by the board. 

Stone gave some insight into the amount of checks written during the workshop:

  • October: $63,000 total
  • November: 33 checks totaling $20,000
  • December: 56 checks totaling $59,000

The school’s former financial services company, Red Apple, voiced concerns about losing control over the school’s spending. Red Apple held public meetings with the school to prioritize expenses due to be paid.

According to Principal Christine Cruickshank, these expenses were for things like paying local vendors for school lunches, electricity, rental facilities, etc. Day-to-day operational expenses for the high school. 

Principal Christine Cruickshank giving a tour of the school (📸 Destin High School)

However, the financial strain became evident when comparing the school’s salary and benefit costs to the funding received from the Florida Education Funding Program (FEFP). Those costs consistently exceeded the funding, culminating in a staggering 20% overage in March 2023, partly due to the inclusion of coaches’ stipends. Here’s the breakdown:

  • January – 101%
  • February – 112%
  • March – 120%
  • April – 109%
  • May – 90%
  • June – 103% (projected)

An issue seems to be the school’s budgeting based on projected student enrollment (475 students), not actual instructional hours. This means that due to students being dual-enrolled or even opting for a study hall, the school would receive less FTE money from the state than expected. According to the March 2023 unaudited financials, the high school actually receives funds based on 437 FTE. 

  • “The budget that we established in year two was very much based on Red Apple giving us advice,” said Sarah Stone, Governing Board Member and Treasurer for Destin High School, during the workshop. “We didn’t know that we were over budget until we really were with School Financial Services.”

By December 2022, the school had dismissed Red Apple, hiring School Financial Services in an attempt to rectify the situation. However, by this point, the process of recovering and reviewing records from Red Apple was slow and challenging.

The school also faced issues with its reserves, as they had to be used for unexpected expenses such as $50,000 for air conditioning and legal expenses. Stone told the crowd that the school budgeted $6,500 for substitute pay but is currently sitting at about $50,000 in sub pay. 

  • “So we’ve blown our budget,” said Stone.

Principal Cruickshank did clarify the substitute teacher information and said that the school did lose 2 teachers this year, unrelated to the current situation. One of the positions was harder to fill given the requirements. 

  • Still, as of the March financials, which is the one most recently completed, the school was over budget by $832,000 with most of that being due to unexpected costs, according to Cruickshank. 

The launch of 25 sports programs at Destin High School

Coach EG Green (center) pictured with Tripp Tolbert (left) and Principal Cruickshank (right)

The school was also running a full sports program from year one. In total, the school is operating 25 sports programs for 475 students. Athletic Director Phil Dorn spoke during the workshop, claiming that a $150,000 donation specifically earmarked for a new weight room “disappeared.” 

“That is against the law,” Dorn asserted. He also revealed that athletics had brought in $806,000 in revenue this year, with expenses amounting to $752,000, raising questions about the alleged deficit. In the first year, he says athletics had $450,000 in revenue and ~$300,000 in expenses.

  • “Right here is two years of tracking of athletic money,” he said. “I asked for permission to spend the money from Red Apple.”

Dorn went on to say that when he got to Destin High School, he asked Red Apple how they would line item and track athletic funds. Dorn claims he was told that Red Apple doesn’t do it that way and that he should keep track of his funding, as they put the money “all in one bucket.”

  • Dorn added that “[coaches] stipends were never under athletics. Transportation was never under athletics. Facilities was never under athletics.”

Stone said that starting with so many sports programs and clubs was a mistake.

“It was a mistake of the board to allow that. I will say that with certainty,” she said. “The problem is, you had a board that believed in this and we didn’t want to say no to anything, so we said yes to everything.”

Teachers not having access to fundraising money

Stone told the audience that since School Financial Services came on in January, it has taken them three months just to sort through everything that they have had to process.

  • “At a district school, you have a CFO that’s paid. You have an attorney that’s paid. You have bookkeepers. You have every paid position,” she said. “Here, none of us are paid, so we’re doing this in between our real jobs. On top of that, School Financial Services, they do get paid, but for the amount of work, it is minimal.”

The teachers, specifically those who run special programs like band, athletics, theater and fishing, voiced frustrations with the spending freeze due to no longer having access to the donations and funds they raised. Some teachers have had to resort to putting expenses on their personal credit cards. 

Music Director Courtney Noe addressed the board during the workshop and stated that she has kept record of all of her donations and fundraising, and that her program has been fully self-funded. 

“When we’re told you can’t spend the money that you fundraised and you can’t pay your people that have already worked for you, because we don’t have any money, that’s concerning,” said Noe. “I had $3,000 on my credit card for two months. I planned ahead. I did my business. I made it happen. Thank God I had $3,000 on my credit card open.”

  • Questions of trust and accountability arose when a member of the audience asked about the allocation of donations. He expressed worry that the money earmarked for specific programs, like the music program, might have been redirected elsewhere, such as payroll.

As for the money, SFS claims that “internal accounts are housed, monitored and maintained on the chart of accounts.” But from a cash in, cash out standpoint, the school only has so much that comes into the account each month. 

“That, in turn, has to go out for payroll, for example,” said a finance representative. “You only have so much money coming in during the month. Once it comes in, it honestly turns around and goes back out for your bond payment, and then the net amount is then deposited.”

  • “When you contract with us, cash is one of the things that we assist you in maintaining, and when your payroll comes up, we have an estimated amount that has to be in that account in order for your payroll to sweep. From a cash statement, the money is there and payroll has to be met. But on the chart of accounts, your stuff will be accounted for.”
  • When asked by Mrs. Noe if there was “cash to cover” the needs of special programs, the reply from finance was “at this time, no.”

In an interview with Get The Coast, Mrs. Cruickshank confirmed that while special program funds are accounted for on the financial reports, the school did not have restricted cash accounts in place. 

A charter school in Okaloosa County

The Okaloosa County School District is simply the ‘sponsor’ of Destin High School Inc., and essentially is the passthrough for money from the state to the school. The Okaloosa County School Board did approve Destin High School Inc.’s charter in 2019, but the school operates on its own with their own governing board.

Destin High School Inc.’s founding members right after the school’s charter was approved by the Okaloosa County School Board in 2019 (Destin High School)

However, even though the District and the Okaloosa County School Board are not involved in the operations of Destin High School, the District can terminate the school’s charter for nearly 50 reasons. Reason number 2 on this is the “failure to meet generally accepted standards of fiscal management.” This includes, but is not limited to:

  • A negative fund balance in any governmental fund as reported in a budget or audit report;
  • Negative net assets as reported in a budget or audit report; 
  • Failure to timely file reports required by the Sponsor; 
  • Improper expenditure of grant funds;
  • Failure to maintain required insurance; 
  • Failure to correct audit findings within sixty (60) calendar days;
  • Spending in excess of approved appropriations; 
  • And material discrepancies (5% percent or greater) between unaudited annual financial reports and audited statements;

Another reason on the list is “having substantial debt resulting in a deteriorating financial condition or delinquency in payments.”

Attendees were told that the school would have two separate accounts moving forward – an operational account and an internal account – to ensure more transparent handling of funds. However, the finance representative highlighted in the workshop that “your cash-in can only go so far. So you are depending on the community to assist you in your fundraising efforts to overcome a deficit as a normal charter school.”

Despite this, Stone emphasized the importance of collective fundraising for the school, rather than fundraising for specific expenses. She reasoned, “We will raise a lot more money by doing that than only going out and earmarking for a specific expense that you need right now.”

Stone also addressed the need for financial prudence, given the school’s lack of reserve funds. 

  • “When your budget is spent, you will have to fundraise anything above that and we’re not there yet,” she said. “We’re going to get better every year and build up a reserve account because right now we have no reserves for replacements.”

As for the Okaloosa County School District with regard to Destin High School, the charter school, just like all public charter schools, has its own administration and governing board that are responsible for the oversight of its school’s operations, including financial matters. The District did release the following statement:

  • “The Okaloosa County School District’s role regarding charter school financial matters is to monitor and review the financial information of the charter school to ensure it is operating within the terms of its charter contract and state law. The District provides technical assistance to the charter school regarding its financial accounting operations as may be requested. Monthly, the District reviews financial statements and provides service as needed. In recent weeks, the District has requested additional financial records and information to perform a more thorough review of the charter school’s financial condition as outlined in the school’s charter.”

Tension between the governing board and school staff

The financial issues at Destin High School have been compounded by tension between the governing board and school staff. Teachers have expressed frustrations over treatment from certain board members, along with frustrations over the status of funds raised by them for certain programs. The tension became so fraught that 32 of 35 school employees signed a petition to have Sarah Stone removed from the governing board. 

The petition requested the immediate removal of Stone and outlines a series of allegations against her.

Here is what the petition stated:

“As treasurer, Mrs. Stone’s main role is to oversee the finances of our school and work to raise money to sustain the school. Very few fundraising efforts were made during the course of this school year, and after a tumultuous ride with our previous financial company, our school has found itself in financial straits. While this has created a great deal of stress on all parties involved, Mrs. Stone has made a bad situation worse by the way she has treated our staff.

Over the course of her tenure, Mrs. Stone has repeatedly questioned the integrity of the administration, cast doubt on their competency, and at times used slanderous statements directed toward administration. This behavior is not only unprofessional, but it has undermined the trust and confidence that our faculty, staff, and overall community has in our organization.

Furthermore, Mrs. Stone’s interactions with administration and staff at meetings, through texts, and through emails is often aggressive and condescending. Her behavior has created an environment of hostility and tension between the board and our staff, which is not conducive to productive discussion and decision making.

We believe that the DHS Board should consist of individuals who are committed to the mission and values of our organization, and who conduct themselves with the utmost professionalism and respect for their colleagues. Mrs. Stone’s aggressive attitude and lack of respect for the people whom the board serves has undermined the effectiveness of the board to serve all stakeholders – the staff, the students, the parents, and the community as a whole.

Therefore, we urge the board to take swift action to remove Mrs. Stone from her position. We believe that this action is necessary to preserve the reputation and integrity of our organization and ensure that the board is composed of individuals who are respectful of our faculty and staff and who work as a cohesive group for the betterment of our school.”

The Destin High School Governing Board getting ready for the “Emergency Meeting” on Friday, May 12, 2023 (Get The Coast)

The petition was never formally presented to the board, but was brought up during Monday’s workshop. Members of the board, and various community members, demanded to know how the petition was started and who wrote it. Principal Cruickshank said she did not know about the petition “in any way, shape, or form” and said that she was asked if staff could have a meeting one morning.

In response to the petition, an emergency board meeting was scheduled for Friday, May 12 at 1pm at Destin City Hall. The meeting was requested by Mrs. Stone on behalf of her attorney to “vote on the immediate termination of Mr. Dorn” and requested “direction from the Board attorney regarding the most expeditious manner to investigate the involvement of others and address the situation from this point forward.”

The reason for the the “immediate termination of Mr. Dorn” was outlined in her letter below:

The ‘emergency meeting’ letter begins with:

“As a follow-up to the last two days of meetings, Ms. Stone is formally requesting that the Board act and respond to the actions of those persons who organized the meeting and petition to have Sarah Stone removed from the Board by spreading fear and misinformation to the staff of Destin High School. Although the petition was not formally presented and has now been discarded by those who signed it, the irreparable damage to Ms. Stone, her daughter, the school, and the Board cannot begin to be rectified until the actions of those who started this are addressed.

The same people who started the petition are continuing to spread fear and misinformation within the school walls and on social media, including telling staff that their salaries will be cut.

Although great effort was made in the meetings to set the record straight, the reality is that many of the teachers continue to believe the misinformation that is being distributed by those that they work with and see day in and day out. They are afraid for their jobs. In fact, this morning, a message was sent to students referencing the petition and stating more misinformation. The sender is unknown but is using the email The only way to right the ship is to immediately terminate the people that are spreading the misinformation and meet with the remaining staff to answer all questions after those terminations. If immediate action is not taken to calm this storm and stop this campaign, the school’s future is in jeopardy.

This situation is a failure of leadership. Ms. Cruikshank sat in the meetings where all of this was being said and did not say one reconciling word in defense of the Board or Sarah Stone in order to set the record straight. She only denied knowledge of the meeting and petition, which cannot be truthful. No leader would allow a meeting of her entire staff with an outsider without asking any questions and knowing the exact purpose of the meeting. There are also emails that show she was informed.

The fact that she was comfortable telling this lie to the Board, her staff, parents, and students when everyone in the room knew it was a lie is truly concerning. It is a question of ethics and leadership. I think every Board member should decide whether they think she was truthful and whether this is the person you as a Board want as your Head of School. Ms. Cruikshank has allowed and encouraged this situation to develop, and this is a failure of leadership on her part. If the Board does not address it, that is also a failure of leadership.

It is my request and recommendation on behalf of Ms. Stone that the Board initiate a formal investigation into the meeting that started this situation to determine who organized it, who approved it, who allowed the third-party attorney to meet with the staff on campus during school hours, and whether any Board members were involved, as some Board members notably did not answer that question in the meetings. The Athletic Director, Phil Dorn, stated in the meeting on May 9, 2023, that he was the person who brought the attorney into the school to meet with the staff. There is an email to all staff, including Ms. Cruikshank.

Those persons that allowed and/or encouraged the distribution of misinformation to the staff of Destin High School should be reprimanded, removed and/or terminated, depending on their level of involvement. A public records request for all emails related to the meeting should be made by the Board. It is going to require strong action and leadership by the Board to correct this situation. Inaction should not be an option. The response from the Board should be thorough and swift.

In addition, due to the actions of the organizers of this misinformation campaign, [REDACTED] is currently being bullied by staff members and students at Destin High School. It is disgraceful for teachers to act toward a child in this manner. Ms. Stone has requested that [REDACTED] be allowed to finish the year online due to the unique circumstances that is facing by having [REDACTED] falsely vilified and publicly scorned by most of the teachers and administration at Destin High School. We respectfully request that the Board direct Ms. Cruikshank to provide accommodation for [REDACTED] to finish her work and exams online or in a private setting at the school for the remainder of the year.

Finally, if the Board chooses not to address the petition and continued misinformation campaign and immediately terminate the individuals responsible, then for the protection of her family and herself, Ms. Stone will submit her resignation from the Board, effective immediately, and withdraw {REDACTED] from the school. She will pursue recourse for her complaints for this unacceptable behavior at the next level.”

However, Friday’s “emergency meeting” did not go as planned. 

Immediately after the meeting started, a motion was made by board member Drew Palmer to adjourn the meeting on the grounds that the reasons for the meeting did not constitute an “emergency.”

  • Mrs. Stone was also not present at the meeting. The reason for her absence was not stated during the meeting.

Principal Cruickshank was given the opportunity to address the audience. In her nearly 5 minute speech, she addressed the governing board, teachers, parents and the students.

“We are in some challenging times. Finances are tight. Mistakes have been made,” she said. “These are growing pains of a young school. We need to keep our eyes on the prize, the students at all times, and we can get through this together.”

Later on during Friday’s meeting, Cruickshank addressed the allegations of teachers talking to students about the current situation.

  • “I have already addressed with the staff that there is to be no communication in the classroom with the students about the adult’s situations,” she said. “They were told by me, along with another staff member, that if I got wind of it that it was occurring, that there would be severe disciplinary action taken on that person.”
Principal Cruickshank delivers a speech to the audience on Friday regarding the current situation at Destin High School (Get The Coast)

As Destin High School tries to focus on the remaining days of this school year, there are also questions as to who will be coming back next year. During the workshop on Monday and the Board meeting on Tuesday, several teachers expressed the possibility of leaving the school.

In fact, Mrs. Noe verbally tendered her resignation at the end of Tuesday’s board meeting. Mrs. Noe described her recent experiences at the school board meetings as being akin to walking into a “snake pit.” She said she had attended the workshop with the intention of understanding the issues plaguing the school and to find possible solutions. However, she says she was met with hostility from individuals who had “never stepped foot in the school” and seemed to have little interest in creating solutions.

“I have taught thousands of children across Okaloosa County and have worked with countless families. At no point have I represented myself as being against great education or our school,” Mrs. Noe said on Tuesday. “Yet, I had grown men and strangers yelling at me last night as if my passions were not appropriate.”

  • “At no point last night did I present an opinion. The issues regarding the deficit, misallocated funds, missing field trip funds, and donor lawsuits are very real. I was only speaking facts. Repeating past meeting minutes should never result in an angry mob attacking a teacher who has only put her students as the top priority.”

“As much as the board’s attorney tried to sway me otherwise, I am also trained in handling donor funds and the dangers it presents us with the IRS and state of Florida. I cannot with a clear conscience allow this misallocation of funds to happen under my watch,” Mrs. Noe said.

  • “It turns out the donuts I sell every Friday, the community donations for new music and instruments, the parent checks for field trips have all been moved to pay my own salary amongst other things.”

In her resignation speech, she also pointed out her disillusionment with the governing board, stating, “After last night, I no longer have trust in this school [DHS governing] board or even the community who heckled me last night when I’ve dedicated the past 13 years of my life to music education.”

Principal Cruickshank told Get The Coast that as of Wednesday evening, she did not have any formal resignations from any teachers. 

Destin High’s Athletics Allegations and Tripp Tolbert’s $1 million pledge

Tripp Tolbert’s donation and pledge to Destin High School (Destin High School Inc.)

On Tuesday, May 16, 2023, a law firm representing Athletic Director Phil Dorn sent a cease and desist letter to Principal Cruickshank on behalf of Dorn in an effort to “stop the harassment against him and to request that efforts be made to prevent spurious claims from being made by individuals who apparently have either a vendetta against him or are attempting to cover up wrongdoing by making false claims about him.”

In the letter, Attorney Marie Mattox outlines chronologically the issues and allegations against Dorn, along with his claims of misuse of money at Destin High School. The “misuse claims” allege that “money that was designated for a specific purpose” was moved to different accounts to be used for a non-designated purpose. She wrote that “as a 501c organization, donated funds have to be used for their intended/designated purpose.”

The following is what Mattox sent in the cease and desist letter to Principal Cruickshank:

Note: It has been formatted to be easier to read.

“On November 16, 2021 a meeting was held with a potential donor to Destin High Athletics between the Principal, and Mr. Dorn. During this meeting which was held to discuss fundraising for a new weight room for Destin High Athletics, a donor pledged to make a donation of $150,000.00. A check was given to you, Ms. Cruickshank, for $150,000.00. After receiving the check, a conference call took place with Jeff Biesinger, from Red Apple Finance. The purpose of the call was to inform him that the check was designated specifically for construction and furnishing the “new weight room building.” He told the participants how to deposit the check with the specific requirement that the money was earmarked for the weight room building. The check was deposited as instructed into the account on December 2, 2021 in Truist Bank.

On June 9, 2022 a Finance Meeting was held with the Principal, Mr. Dorn, a volunteer for the Athletic Department, the Treasurer of the Destin High School Board, and Jeff Biesinger, of Red Apple Finance. During the conversation, Mr. Biesinger said that he did not recall the check being deposited for the purpose of funding the new weight room building. Inexplicably, the money was not available to pay to build the new weight room, and had already been used for other purposes. This is illegal.

On October 3, 2022, a public records request was made to Mr. Dorn for the Athletic Department Budget, and for documents showing how the funds that were raised to date were allocated and spent. After the request, Mr. Dorn thoroughly reviewed the Athletic Department’s finances and learned that there was inconsistent coding of the chart of accounts by the Financial Management Company, Red Apple Financial, which meant that money that was intended to go to Athletic Department functions, was going elsewhere.

On October 5, 2022, Mr. Dorn notified the Athletic Department Treasurer, Sarah Stone, who is also the Public Records Keeper. She responded on October 6, 2022 by email that she would work on these requests and send “soon.’ When the information was still not provided by the October 11, 2022, Destin High School Board Meeting, a group of angry parents led by the requesting parent complained that the Athletic Department did not provide the requested information. The requested information was delayed due to the inconsistent chart of accounts and what appears to have been a cover up of this activity.

On September 13, 2022, a $100,000 check donated by Cara Jones to Destin High School Football was deposited into a new Money Market Fund Account at Truist Bank (1065). The check had been designated on the Memo line “For Future Stadium Naming Rights”. When Destin High School Board Member, Dr. Mitch Silver, followed up with Cara Jones to clarify her intentions for the use of the money, she said she gave it to the Destin High Football Program to be used for Football Operations, and expenses. The check was deposited in a separate account to make sure it was only used for the football program expenses. 

  • The November 30, 2022 bank statement showed an accurate balance of $90,549.00. 
  • On December 15, 2022, a check (7018022) was withdrawn for $10,000.00 cash. This account could only have checks written on it and approved by the Treasurer at that time. This check was not requested for any football expense or use. 
  • On December 29, 2022, there was a $50,000.00 online transfer from this Football Money Market account to the Dynamic Business Checking Account (0122). 
  • On January 3, 2023, another $30,000.00 was moved from the same Football Account (0165) to the Dynamic Business Checking Account (0122). 

When the Head Football Coach came to Mr. Dorn for an equipment order for his program in January, 2023, Mr. Dorn was made aware that this money had been moved and spent for other school expenses, in violation of state law. Mr. Dorn was told that the money would be replenished when the next FTE check arrived in February, 2023 but it still has not been replenished to date. Cara Jones was never notified or asked if the money could be moved or used for other purposes.

On October 7, 2022, a check (#3939) for $250,000.00 was donated to Destin High School as a first installment of a $1,000,000.00 pledge by Mr. Tripp Tolbert. A contract was written and approved by Mr. Tolbert’s Attorney, and the Destin High School Board Attorney with the Arnold Law Firm. The contract clearly states that the first installment was to be used for the “development, construction, repair, renovation, and improvement of Athletic Facilities, such as conditioning rooms, stadiums, ball parks and other similar projects” ( the “Funded Athletic Facilities”). 

  • The agreement was to pay for the new weight room being built at Destin High School for the flooring and weight equipment as designated by Tripp Tolbert. He desired to have his name on the room as “Tripp Tolbert Uptoit Strength and Conditioning Room.” This check was deposited into the Truist Bank Account titled Truist Community Checking (0824), also known as the building account. It was Mr. Tolbert’s desire that this donation would kick off a building fund capital campaign for Athletic Facilities. 
  • Between October 7 and November 1, 2022, an additional $16,039.00 was donated to this account for the development of Athletic Facilities as designated for the athletic projects.

On March 1, 2023, there was an online transfer from the Building Account (0824) to the General Account (0122) for $150,000.00. On March 2, 2023, the Destin High School Bookkeeper submitted the Life Fitness Invoices to the new School Financial Management Systems Company, School Financial Services. These invoices were for the payment of delivery, and installation of the new Weight Room Equipment. After a delay in payment, and recurring phone calls from Life Fitness, an email communication took place between the Bookkeeper and the Treasurer. The Treasurer told the Bookkeeper that the bill could not be paid then. 

  • She further stated that she would like to prioritize the past due invoices as the money became available. This was clearly a breach of contract because the money was only to be used for the weight room equipment. 
  • When this occurred, and payment was not made, Mr. Dorn contacted Tripp Tolbert to let him know his funds had not been used for the new weight room equipment. He followed up with a letter ending this agreement due to the breach of contract on Monday, May 9, 2023. 
  • He also stated that he would still work with the school on future projects but on a smaller scale, with more control and a better display of accountability.

On Friday, March 10, 2023, Mr. Dorn attended a meeting publicized as a Board Budget Workshop with School Financial Services, Destin High School’s new financial management service company. At that meeting, Mr. Dorn and another board member questioned the use of Tripp Tolbert’s money for purposes other than paying for the weight room equipment. They pointed out that there was a legal contract, and that the money must be used for designated purposes. Their concerns were deflected and discredited with no acknowledgement that this was a Breach of Contract by the Destin High School Board. After discrediting remarks were made to both Mr. Dorn and his wife, who works as a volunteer tracking money for Destin High Athletics, Mr. Dorn stated that what was happening was wrong, and he left the meeting. Because this was a workshop and not a formal board meeting there are no public notes on his concern.

At the April 25, 2023 Destin High School Board Meeting, the Treasurer of the Destin High School Board, Sarah Stone, stated that the Principal had created a “Culture of Spending” at Destin High School. She also stated that the Athletics Department had spent over 128% of their budget, and she then publicly humiliated the Principal at Destin High School and demanded that she turn over the school checkbook to the Board President immediately. This display in a public meeting infuriated several Destin High Teachers, who felt the Treasurer’s actions were bullying, and strong arming the school’s administration. These teachers started a petition to have the Destin High School Treasurer removed from the school board due to her treatment of employees. 

  • The teachers, after hearing concerns about the school’s financial crises, wanted to know what would happen to them if the school could not stay open. The faculty then met as a concerned group of employees on May 2, 2023 before school started at 7:15am. At this meeting, they consulted with an attorney who specializes in contract law to address their concerns if the school closes. 
  • Thereafter, they presented a petition to the Board and it was emailed to the board members individually, and not presented formally in an open meeting. Mr. Dorn did not write nor distribute this petition. 
  • After this meeting, it came to Mr. Dorn’s attention per social media posts, and a board members comments that Mr. Dorn and others were illegally wiretapped by a former board member who controls the School’s security, and surveillance system and Destin High School. The video was distributed to board members.

📝 NOTE: Get The Coast did a public records request and confirmed that ​​the Governing Board did receive a video recording of the May 3 meeting that took place at 7:15am. The surveillance system was accessed. 

Get The Coast has no opinion on the accusation.

The Letter continued…

On May 3, 2023, an Emergency Board meeting was called by Sarah Stone, Treasurer. That meeting was canceled on May 4, 2023 and has not been reset. On Monday, May 8, 2023 the Destin High School Board held a Budget Workshop meeting at the school. This public meeting was attended by multiple employees of Sarah Stone, and her husband, many of not most of whom had never worked with Destin High School nor were privy to its spending. 

  • “These individuals made slanderous comments about Mr. Dorn, and questioned Athletics spending. The treasurer again made remarks that were not based in fact, and when teachers of the school tried to question her to explain the misuse of funds by the board for uses other than their designated purpose, they were cut off and heckled by these same employees of Sarah Stone and her husband.”

On Tuesday, May 9, 2023 the official School Board Meeting was held by the Destin High School Executive Board. This public meeting brought public comment by many teachers regarding the mistreatment towards the teachers at the Budget Workshop meeting held on Monday, May 8, 2023. The teachers felt disrespected and unable to communicate their concerns to the Board.

On Wednesday, May 10, 2023 the entire Destin High School Administration, Faculty, and Staff received a scathing email from a parent, Jennifer Knaepple. In this email entitled, Buzzwords from Monday and Tuesday, Ms. Knaepple attacked and slandered Phil Dorn to discredit him and perhaps cover up wrongdoing by her colleague, Sarah Stone. Her comments were based on nothing other than conjecture and lies. Ms. Knaepple and her husband also held an impromptu public meeting slandering Phil Dorn following adjournment of the Destin High School emergency board meeting held on May 12, 2023 at 1:00pm.

On Thursday, May 11, 2023, a posting of an Emergency Board Meeting was made to be held at 1:00 pm on May 12, 2023 at the Destin City Hall. A posting on Friday, May 12, 2023 showed that the only action-item on the agenda was “The Renewal of Contract of Mr. Dorn”. the item that was added and promoted by Sarah Stone.

On Friday, May 12, 2023 the Destin High School Executive Board held an Emergency Board Meeting at 1:00 pm at an overflow packed City Hall Board Meeting room. The meeting was not attended by Sarah Stone, Treasurer. The meeting was adjourned because the agenda only had one action item on it, and it did not warrant an emergency meeting. There were many of the same people in the room from the Tuesday’s Board meeting. As soon as the meeting was adjourned, Mr. and Mrs. Knaepple began to speak out loudly and falsely against Phil Dorn in what appears to be a continued effort to cover up wrongdoing and potentially illegal activities by Sarah Stone regarding spending of money earmarked for specific projects within the Athletic Department. Mr. and Mrs. Knaepple continued to hold this meeting even after they were told to adjourn. The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Department was called to disperse the crowd.

This witch hunt and public disparagement must stop. I am writing to you so that you have the full picture of what is happening here and so that an investigation can be conducted of Sarah Stone’s involvement in the misappropriation of money, as addressed above, and her role in soliciting her employees and friends to publicly disparage Mr. Dorn. I am asking you to issue a cease and desist to the Knaepple’s and others who apparently are attempting to deflect attention away from Ms. Stone to fire the one person who is trying to keep school and Athletic finances straight so that a larger problem does not arise.”

That was the end of the cease and desist letter.

What happens next

There seems to be a bright spot for the school, however, thanks to some very recent donations in the past two weeks. According to a public finance meeting on Tuesday, May 16, the school claims they will be fully caught up on all payables that have been submitted.

As of the March 31st report, the accounts payable totalled $375,000. Cruickshank said they have paid down a large amount of that already and are working through them to get them paid as quickly as possible.

  • “I feel very comfortable with where we’re going in the future,” said Cruickshank during Monday’s workshop.

Moving forward, the school is working on their draft budget and looking at increased enrollment numbers and what staffing will look like, according to discussion during Tuesday’s financial meeting.

New artificial reefs were deployed on May 17, 2023 by the Okaloosa Coastal Resource Team. Destin High School Fishing Class students were part of this deployment as they raised $10,000 toward the project. The school deployed one “super reef” (25ft tall) surrounded by 10 smaller reefs. (Alex Fogg)

When asked if Destin High School was at risk of closing its doors, Cruickshank confidently replied, “Not at all. I do not feel that way at all.”

  • “This is needed in Destin,” she continued. “This is a place we want the kids to be. The kids are happy, the kids are excited, and in my opinion, we are not at risk.”

As the final days of the school year approach, Cruickshank believes the future is bright for Destin High School.

“There have been problems identified but we are working to fix those problems,” she said. “I’m looking forward to the Blessing of the Fleet tomorrow night with our seniors. I’m looking forward to state testing being over and the end of course exams. And I’m looking forward to graduation next week. I think that we are making a big impact, a positive impact in the community, and I want to continue that.”

The next governing board meeting will take place on May 23, 2023 at 6pm in the Destin High School Cafeteria.

14 Responses

  1. Excellent reporting. Thanks for all the detail. Who knew running a school was so hard. (sarcasm)

  2. Excellent Reporting Jared -It was long,concise and very easy to understand What a nightmare but you unraveled and explained in an exceptional manner for all to understand

  3. Looks like the illegal recruiting of football players caught up with the Athletic Director and Principal. Okaloosa School District needs to take over this school. The dishonestly is reprehensible. Get rid of Crookshank and Dorn. Stone just doing her job. Great Article!

    1. Any evidence or are doing more smearing with lies? Nowhere did the article talk about “illegal recruiting”. Source?

      1. You sound like a teacher at the school Capt.,…here let me help you and if this isn’t enough I can share the FHSAA records request with you: Destin High School Board minutes April 15, “Discussion of $10,000 payment made in two $5000 increments to FHSAA for football sanction not authorized by board, not in budget, and while under spending freeze. Board was not made aware of the sanction. Checks written and signed by Principal.” See

  4. Great article! Most interesting is that there has been nothing on the local television news addressing this. Also, why was the school allowed to operate on its own?

    1. Charter School has its own board. This was explained in the article. The same rules apply for Liza Jackson. Any charter school in the county gets a stipen per student, from the state.

  5. Clear, concise, cogent and impartial reporting. Thanks for your exemplary reporting

  6. Interesting read. Article seems well organized and, hopefully, all information verifiable. Why haven’t other news sources been this diligent or even interested?

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