Money removed from PTO account later restored

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 21, 2004

[4/21/04]More than $30,000 raised by Vicksburg Intermediate School students and members of the school’s parent-teacher organization was repaid three days after it was discovered missing last month, and the organization’s treasurer has since resigned.

No accusations of wrongdoing have been made, nor are criminal charges being considered, sources said.

On March 29, $31,259 was deposited into the PTO-controlled checking account at BancorpSouth, bank records that became available to The Vicksburg Post reflect.

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Two days later, board members accepted the resignation of the PTO treasurer, Katrina Carpenter of 316 Buchan Drive, said Linda Turner, a lead teacher at Vicksburg Intermediate, who has been teacher representative to the PTO since the school opened in 1999.

“This is something very unusual,” Turner said. “No one member of the PTO has the authority to make large expenditures on their own.”

The bank records show 23 checks totaling $17,008 were written from September to March and made payable to Carpenter.

The largest of the checks was for $2,500, and three other checks payable to Carpenter were written in one day, Jan. 5, totaling $3,220.

Two checks totaling $2,055 were written on Dec. 5 and Dec. 15 to Carpenter’s sister, Angela Carpenter, who is the fund-raising chairman for the PTO.

Five checks written for cash totaled $950. Those checks, written between August and November, were endorsed by Katrina Carpenter.

Messages were left at Carpenter’s workplace and home seeking comment on the situation for several days. No response was received.

According to PTA bylaws, checks are required to have two signatures, but the bank requires one. Most of the checks making withdrawals show PTO president Harry Johnson’s name with Carpenter’s signature below. Minutes from a March 26 board meeting quote Johnson as saying the signature was not his.

Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace said his department was contacted by the PTO, but no criminal charges were filed.

“One of my investigators was contacted by the president of the PTO board, stating they had missing or misappropriated funds from the PTO account,” Pace said. “The PTO was advised of what they would need to proceed with criminal charges if that was the route they wished to pursue.

“We were subsequently contacted by the president of the PTO that the matter had been resolved with full repayment of funds.”

Ninth Circuit Court District Attorney Gil Martin said his office had not been formally contacted.

Rather than press charges, Johnson said, after discussing options on how to handle the situation, then board decided to recover the money.

“Upon consulting the other PTO board members regarding the various options available to us, we felt that in the best interest of the students and parents that we serve, we should attempt to recover the missing funds,” Johnson said. “We feel that we have accomplished the recovery of those funds. However, to ensure an accurate accounting of all financial transactions during our tenure as PTO board members, we have requested and are in the process of obtaining a formal audit of the PTO account.”

The audit, by a private accounting firm, is ongoing.

Some school officials remain upset. The checking account bears the school’s name, but the account is strictly the PTO’s and does not contain Vicksburg Warren School District funds.

“The bottom line is that the school’s reputation is being tarnished because of this, and we had nothing to do with it,” said Principal Charles “Bubba” Hanks. “The PTO does a lot of things for the school and we’ve got to have that money.”

The PTO hosts fund-raisers for the school. Although many schools have such groups, they are not linked.

Fund-raisers at Vicksburg Intermediate this year have included one that generated $26,000, a Valentine’s Day candy-gram sale, a Scholastic Book Fair and selling display boards for the district’s science fair.

The money is used to host ice cream parties for honor roll students, Christmas parties for faculty and staff, pizza parties and school T-shirts.

The PTO board at Vicksburg Intermediate is made up of five parents and two teacher representatives. Parents typically serve one school year.

Questions about the PTO account arose when a representative from QSP Reader’s Digest, a national fund-raising company, told school officials that an October bill for $14,097 had not been paid and was being turned over to a collection agency, Turner said.

“That’s when we really started looking into it,” she said. PTO members then discovered the checking account had a balance of less than $200 and asked the bank for copies of monthly statements.

Minutes from a March 26 PTO meeting show members agreed to ask Carpenter to repay $31,259 within 10 days and resign from the board immediately.

That amount was asked to be repaid based on bank and fund-raising records.

The PTO checking account was opened around the time the school on Dana Road opened in 1999, and the same account is maintained each year. As treasurer, Carpenter was given the checkbook in August. The checking account then had a balance of about $4,000 from the previous year.

Vicksburg Intermediate serves all fifth- and sixth-graders who live in the south half of Warren County.