Jeff Meadors: Better control needed over school funds

Jeff Meadors

Jeff Meadors

There’s no telling where the money went.

DeKalb County schools cannot account for $12 million in taxpayer funds. Are they the only ones abusing other peoples’ money?

The San Bernardino County Sun reports that more than a month after more than $100,000 went missing from California’s High Desert High School’s student fund there is no active investigation.

Also in California, Hesperia Unified School District officials recently announced that a similar account at Oak Hills High School came up $120,000 short.

A Royal Oak High School principal in Detroit pleaded guilty in December to a charge of embezzling from $1,000 to $20,000, according to the Daily Tribune.

Atlanta’s WSB reported last year that $66,370.80, apparently in vending machine coin swaps with fund-raising money, went missing at Cedar Grove Middle School in DeKalb County; the DA is investigating a former principal.

Students struggle to learn, teachers fight bureaucracy to teach and the dogs of society do disappearing acts with taxpayer money in school districts where, in some cases, a serious effort to hold anyone accountable is noticeably absent.

So where did $12 million in taxpayer money go in DeKalb County schools based on a December 2012 SACS report? While SACS stops short of alleging criminal activity, the DeKalb DA is on the trail.

Should that be the case in Hartford, Conn., where police want answers on missing money at Kinsella Magnet School of the Performing Arts?

According to Hartford media, “Leaders of the Kinsella PTO filed the complaint Dec. 3, 2012, alleging that former Principal Pamela Totten-Alvarado made eight unauthorized withdrawals from the PTO’s account at People’s United Bank between April 20 and Aug. 6.”

In Pittsburgh, Charleroi Area Superintendent Brad Ferko said he had not yet received a copy of the state police report investigating missing cafeteria money there.

“We‘re not sure when charges will be filed,” Ferko said. “They better be filed, that‘s all I‘ve got to say.”

Ferko remarked, “We will not have people steal from this district,” adding that the missing money would not impact student cafeteria accounts.

The Newton/Rockdale Citizen reported in October that Walton County Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Foster, who is also an attorney for this columnist, filed a request for production of documents in Newton County Superior Court, including any related to investigations of financial mismanagement at Alcovy High School over a three-year period.

Shortly thereafter, the principal during the three years targeted by Foster dismissed a pending lawsuit against this columnist and the request for documents was dropped.

Outgoing Newton Superintendent Gary Mathews offered that “clearly school officials should have kept better records ...” in a June 2012 statement regarding handling of student funds, and added that he found “no evidence to suggest that any particular individual deliberately misused or misappropriated funds.”

Search warrants obtained by San Diego media show possible embezzlement of $180,000 in the San Diego Unified School District.

Accountability and transparency should be routine, not forced through media inquests and legal wrangling.

After all, how many times can one get away with going to the Kentucky Derby claiming to have never seen a horse?

Jeff Meadors is the District 1 representative on the Newton County Board of Education. Readers may email him at pjeffreymeadors@gmail.com.