Friday, April 19, 2013

Treasurer of PTO accused of embezzlement in Vermont

Vermont State Police say the treasurer of the Richford Elementary School Parent Teacher Organization is facing an embezzlement charge.
Police say 35-year-old Shawna Steinhour has been cited to appear in court on May 20 following a one-month investigation.
Police on Thursday did not reveal how much she's accused of embezzling and did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Steinhour said she had no comment on the charge.

One day after a Richford Elementary School teacher was ordered to appear in criminal court for a felony embezzlement charge, her school district confirmed Friday that she has been put on paid leave from her teaching duties.
Shawna Steinhour, 35, took an estimated $3,500 while serving as treasurer for the Richford Parent Teacher Organization from October 2011 to March 22, Vermont State Police Detective Sgt. Edward Meslin said.
“The teacher will not be present at school until the matter is more thoroughly investigated,” Franklin Northeast School Superintendent Jay Nichols during an an update Friday. Nichols had said Thursday that Steinhour was still in the classroom, but it was subject to ongoing review.
Nichols told the Burlington Free Press that Steinhour will be on an indefinite paid leave from the school, which is on spring break next week.
Nichols said state law allows him to put teachers on paid leave. He said he met with Steinhour on Friday to give her the news.
Attempts to reach Steinhour or her husband, Wally, who serves on the town School Board, have been unsuccessful.
Steinhour, who is a first-grade teacher, has worked for Richford Elementary School for nine years. She previously worked for Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.
She is due in Vermont Superior Court in St. Albans on May 20.

Outcry in Richford over a Parent-Teacher Organization treasurer and teacher accused of embezzling thousands from PTO funds. Now some residents are calling for the woman's husband to resign from the school board.

Shawna Steinhour denied the embezzlement charges last week, but court records show her husband, who sits on the Richford School Board, may have had a hand in the money issues, too. Wally Steinhour is not facing any charges. That's something that's not sitting well with the PTO and some parents.

According to the board, Wally Steinhour has recused himself since his wife was accused of embezzlement. Some members of the PTO feel that's not enough.

"When somebody takes out a loan to cover up monies that have been stolen-- and they were stolen; it's a fact-- it just doesn't sit right with us," said PTO member Marie Destefano.

Some at the meeting called for Wally Steinhour to be fired since court documents revealed he took out a personal loan and used it to pay back the thousands of dollars his wife, Shawna, is accused of embezzling. She is both a first-grade teacher and elementary school PTO treasurer. Prosecutors say she used the money to shop online and go to the hair salon. Parents say if he tried to cover it up, he can't be trusted anymore.

"It was kind of slipped in there and none of us knew until we checked bank records," Destefano explained. "And that's where we found it a little under the table," she says of Steinhour's actions.

But Franklin Northeast Supervisory Union Superintendent Jay Nichols made it clear there's nothing anyone can do to remove Wally Steinhour from his position.

"From a legal perspective, any elected official or school board member is an elected official. Unless they resign or lose in the next election, they have a right to that seat," Nichols said at the meeting.

Technically, Wally Steinhour could resume his position at any time, but he wouldn't be allowed to take part in hearings about his wife's standing as an employee. She's on paid administrative leave.

Though Wally Steinhour's position is safe, the board could decide to fire Shawna Steinhour because she is an employee, not an elected official,  regardless of the outcome of the criminal charges.

"If they can prove just cause they can terminate an employee," Nichols explained. "The employee can be found innocent or guilty-- doesn't matter. The board still has the right to make that decision."

Wednesday night, in a closed-door executive session, the superintendent gave his recommendation to the board on what to do about Shawna Steinhour. The board could decide to keep her on paid administrative leave, to terminate her contract, to ask her to resign, or could return her to regular status. It's a process that will require hearings and could take quite some time. Wally Steinhour is not facing any criminal charges at this time.

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