PTA says tens of thousand stolen: How can PTA protect accounts?

Tens of thousands of dollars have been stolen from PTA funds of an Atlanta elementary school and the PTA president says a parent diverted the funds.

From the AJC:

“Tens of thousands of dollars have been stolen from the PTA and school foundation at E. Rivers Elementary School in Buckhead, Atlanta police confirmed Tuesday. So far, there has been no arrest.”

“Though PTA leaders told parents at a Tuesday night meeting that nearly $54,000 had been recovered, they declined to put a dollar amount on the amount on the alleged theft, citing the ongoing investigation.”

“It is one of our parents,” PTA Co-President Elise Lowry said during the meeting at Covenant Presbyterian Church, across Peachtree Road from the school.

“Lowry alerted Atlanta police to the missing money on March 7, according to an incident report obtained by the AJC. Lowry reported that an account audit by the PTA discovered missing check payments from Peachtree Road United Methodist Church.”

“Lowry told police that she confirmed checks in excess of $20,000 were deposited into a bank account at Signature Bank, and that a person suspected in the theft worked at the bank, according to the incident report.”

” ‘The money was never taken from our account. It was intercepted before it ever got to us,’ Lowry said at the Tuesday night meeting.”

“The amount of money missing from the school’s account apparently has grown since the initial report. A budget distributed at the PTA meeting showed $53,821.19 has been recovered.”

“Attorney Steven Dunlevie, a spokesman for Signature Bank, would only say that the individual in question worked at the bank from March 1, 1995, to April 9, 2012. Dunlevie, with the Womble Carlyle firm, would not comment on why the person left the bank.”

“A letter sent home to parents Tuesday regarding the theft, read, in part: “The PTA and The E. Rivers Education Foundation (EREF) have uncovered a situation involving theft of funds; an individual with approved access to our financial information diverted funds from some of our parents and partner organizations that were intended to go to the school, the PTA or EREF. ”

“The letter went on the say, “We are working very closely with the authorities and an attorney to address the situation and to recover the missing funds. ”

“Molly Epstein, a parent and a spokeswoman for the PTA at the school, at 8 Peachtree Battle Ave., said Tuesday night that the person believed responsible for depositing funds into a different account was someone parents had trusted with the school’s finances.”

“Epstein said parents at all schools need to make sure checks written for school causes make it to the right bank account.”

“We are hopeful that there will be an arrest” in the E. Rivers investigation, Epstein said.

I know times are tough but I’m still surprised by parents stealing from their kids’ PTA funds. How did they think someone would not notice that much money missing?

I’ve heard stories about room moms diverting funds but that is far less money and also a much less formal process for check and balances. Sometimes there is only one room mom who knows how much is collected.

I know our old school would hand out at PTA meetings a record of money coming and going out. The budgeting seemed like a fairly transparent process.

I’m not sure what they do at our current school to show the parents they are keeping track.

This sounds like this was more of a bank problem than a PTA problem. It sounds like the person just happen to work there and be associated with the school.

How does your keep their PTA books clean? Are other officers checking on the treasure’s work? Should the checks and balances be from outside the PTA? Should it be from the school administrators? Should some of the funds be used for outside accountants to verify the funds are being handled properly?

How can PTA’s prevent money/checks/cash from being diverted?

33 comments Add your comment

Jeff

April 18th, 2012
7:01 am

There are embezzlement laws in place for this type of thing. The parent needs to be prosecuted to the fullest extent just like any other situation.

Sadly, this impacts the children significantly. Then again, it impacted my child when I had my business and people stole from me. Insurance wouldn’t cover it because I made the choice to hire the person who did it. I suspect the same applies here.

Kat

April 18th, 2012
7:36 am

Wow! Some serious editing is needed for this blog post – within the cut/pasted article, but especially in the “questions posed” part.

Having said that, I’m always surprised when I hear of these situations. Obviously, all parents want to assume and trust that everyone else is playing fair with the money. Hiring an outside accountant would eat up a lot of the funds, but a parent volunteer (who works as an accountant or financial planner) could really provide some checks and balances. Of course, I would have thought that someone who worked at a bank who be a “safe and secure” person to handle funds to begin with.

Musicteacher

April 18th, 2012
7:42 am

I’m on the PTO board at my son’s elementary school. Every time money is collected, another board member verifies the treasurer’s count before the money is deposited. The treasurer also gives report on account balance and activity at our monthly meetings. This information goes into the minutes, which are posted on the school website.

Me

April 18th, 2012
8:01 am

Why would people in such a fiduciary position – even as volunteers perhaps – not have to be bonded? Or perhaps some type of similar steps taken? Could such volunteers not also hold jobs in the business or finance world where they already assume a fiduciary role?

"Should it be from the school administrators? "

April 18th, 2012
8:01 am

…Surely you jest – just what the APS needs, more administrative oversight, just like they had with the CRCT scandal – but, then again, if Beverly Hall is not in charge, but, I digress…

Especially since ALL the money comes from parents of the kids at any given school, school officials should NOT be anywhere close to the money, unless it is given to them as a gift…

Voice of Reason

April 18th, 2012
8:03 am

It amazes me how stupid people are to think that they could get away with something like this.

☺☻Have A Smile!

April 18th, 2012
8:41 am

..would not comment on why the person left the bank

That’s right, because we need to protect the guilty party.

Heaven forbid we should mention why they left.

RJ

April 18th, 2012
10:36 am

Unforutnately this happens way too much. I worked at a school where funds were just “gone” from the band booster account that parents were over. It would probably be better if the funds were kept in a separate school account managed by the school. It’s easier and doesn’t allow anyone to get their hands on it. The only problem I see is if you have an administrator that wants to “approve” how funds are spent.

JLM

April 18th, 2012
11:32 am

There is a check and balance system according to Georgia PTA bylaws. When the problem(s) arises, it get out of control when people on the board remain silent to questionable activity. Many people are too afraid to speak out – more concern about being like or not causing problems with another parent(s). The leadership of PTA’s must be strong and have integrity.

cobb mom

April 18th, 2012
12:10 pm

Teachers and administrators are allowed to touch money in a school. If a child brings in cash for lunch we have to give them an envelope to fill out their information and then the child must give it to the lunchroom.

As far as the amount of money recovered, WOW, if they’ve recovered over $50,000 to begin with how much did they collect? All the PTAs in my area are salivating at the thought of having $50,000 to spend on their schools.

cobb mom

April 18th, 2012
12:10 pm

Should be are NOT allowed to touch money.

jarvis

April 18th, 2012
12:38 pm

@Have a Smile, they weren’t protecting the guilty party. They were protecting themselves. Why would they have said anymore than they did? How would that have served the bank?

jarvis

April 18th, 2012
12:41 pm

@cobb mom, I might be mistaken, but I think this is the school near Chastain Park that collects for its PTA by charging for parking for concert events.

jarvis

April 18th, 2012
12:43 pm

Ohh….nevermind. I see this one is over on Peachtree Battle. I used to actually play basketball at this school in my early 20’s. Very nice neighborhood.

Kat

April 18th, 2012
1:14 pm

Publish the parent’s name and then the kid will die of embarrassment. We need a way to punish the parent.

jarvis

April 18th, 2012
1:31 pm

Prosecute the parent….that’s a pretty good punishment.

shaggy

April 18th, 2012
2:27 pm

Hey, where is my little Asian friend with the long cane?

So, grasshopper…you storrle the money from the chilren…ehhhhh??? shaggy tole me go and beat you…he rearry nice guy.

THWACK! NO, NOT YOU AGAIN! THWACK! THWOCK! THWACK! I’M SORRY! I WILL NEVER STEAL AGAIN, JUST TELL THAT LITTLE GUY TO STOP IT WITH THE STICK …..

Hannibal Lecter

April 18th, 2012
4:01 pm

People, this is not a PTA issue. This is a case of bank fraud. The PTA happened to be the target, but it could just as easily have been a dry cleaner. No amount of PTA by-laws or administrative oversight would have prevented this.

jarvis

April 18th, 2012
4:32 pm

Bank fraud? How about Theft by Taking?

FJ

April 19th, 2012
6:54 am

For the people wondering about how the PTA gets that much money, E. Rivers has a field that is used by a couple of big church leagues for several sports. This relationship requires a huge amount of volunteer time from the parents. Even though the school is on Peachtree Battle, it actually has a very diverse population, both racially and economically. The zone is quite large and many people that live close to the school send their kids to private school.

E Rivers Parent

April 19th, 2012
12:59 pm

This story sickens and saddens me beyond belief. Yes, my child goes to E Rivers and we love the school. To one poster: Re-read the article. NO school staff was involved it was a parent, not anyone at APS. And yes, we get a lot of this money from the soccer/Tball leagues, it’s not just a bunch of parents writing checks. I also wonder why some people say it’s a bank problem not the parent’s fault? The parent in question (if what I hear is true about who it is) was a very trusted person who set up the accounts and managed them and obviously had access since she worked in the bank. What I really feel badly about is this parent’s child who is still at the school (although I’m not sure if the child has been there this week).

Another Rivers Parent

April 19th, 2012
1:45 pm

@ Rivers Parent…This person committed the crime without access to the PTA’s account – She set up an account at her bank in the name of E. Rivers Elementary by forging signatures of other PTA officers. She then intercepted or solicited money for the PTA, and deposited them in the account she created. This is NOT the bank where the PTA has its money.

The bank is to blame for a good part of this, because if they had followed proper procedures, they would have never let her set up the account without the other people present.

DB

April 19th, 2012
9:29 pm

The most obvious way to prevent future misappropriation of funds is to require two signatures for every check over a certain amount (i.e., $250, etc.). Not to say that signatures can’t be forged, etc., but it’s a start. Or, to have an alert on the account so that any checks over $1,000 are subject to an automatic internal security inquiry.

E Rivers Parent

April 19th, 2012
9:31 pm

Yes, Parent, I heard/understood that too. However she was a trusted exec there (and part owner?) and I believe she was able to circumvent it. I’m not saying the bank doesn’t have issues, but they are not “at fault” in my estimation. The parent is – the parent who took the money, violated our trust and also put her child in a terrible situation.

Ann

April 20th, 2012
11:05 am

Kind of funny when @ Kat criticizes Theresa’s blog post (”Wow! Some serious editing is needed for this blog post – within the cut/pasted article, but especially in the “questions posed” part.”), then he or she makes a big error in the last sentence, using the wrong word:

“Of course, I would have thought that someone who worked at a bank who be a “safe and secure” person to handle funds to begin with.”

What is “worked at a bank who be a”?

I think it’s helpful to Theresa when someone points out an error or mistake that affects the meaning of the sentence or paragraph, so that she can correct it for readers. But, when you start your criticism with “Wow”, that is much more pompous.

curious

April 20th, 2012
1:49 pm

How come no arrest over a month after this was reported to police? And, why is the PTA/School disclosing this to parents at a regularly scheduled meeting well over a month after this was uncovered?

[...] PTA states many thousands of taken: Just how can PTA shield balances? Hundreds and hundreds of bucks are already taken through PTA money of the Atlanta grammar school and also the PTA chief executive states a parent or guardian redirected the particular money. “Tens associated with 1000s of dollars are already taken in the PTA as well as college basis from Electronic. Streams… Learning much more upon Atlanta Log Metabolic rate (blog) [...]

Doesnt Matter

April 21st, 2012
4:02 pm

It’s sad that in America, if you have an expensive, great lawyer, you can get away with just about anything.

i want to know

April 21st, 2012
5:26 pm

That sounds like sour grapes.

Yet Another Rivers Parent

April 24th, 2012
3:59 pm

I feel so sorry for her child. I know the perpetrator here and am shocked that she is involved. Although nothing justifies theft, I hope she had (in her mind at least) a good reason for doing it.
Sad.

Denyse P

April 24th, 2012
5:37 pm

I am an officer in a band booster club. We have two treasurers and all deposits and monies collected are verified by both and an account of it is provided in the meeting minutes. It sounds like the PTA was lax because they thought this person was trustworthy so they weren’t not watching her activities. She should go to jail and be made to pay back every cent.

Parent

April 24th, 2012
6:15 pm

From the most recent article on AJC: This person was able to collect (intercept) the checks before anyone at the school/PTA knew about them. She picked the checks up directly from the church and then deposited them in her account at the bank she worked for. No amount of PTA oversight could have caught this. It looks like the thefts (over a period of several years) only came to light when someone noticed a discrepancy between what the church donated and what was collected from the church. It’s outright theft with some possible bank fraud thrown in. The details around the bank transactions have been sketchy.

And $57,000 over 3 years is not an outrageous sum for a PTA budget.

Another APS Parent

April 24th, 2012
6:34 pm

I live down the road from E. Rivers. To those people gawking at this dollar amount, please understand that the parents and teachers have put in an extraordinary amount of time and effort to raise this money.

That said, I don’t care if you are a public or private school, when you such a have such a level of cash in your PTA fund, that a ~50k theft (even over an extended period of time as this was) is only caught on a fluke, then annual, possibly bi-annual, audits are essential.