Friday, July 5, 2013

Middleboro PTA embezzlement case prompts calls for more safeguards


Middleboro school officials are promising stricter financial oversight and new safeguards after a former PTA president pleaded guilty Monday to an embezzlement scheme in which more than $30,000 was taken from a school account.
Middleboro Superintendent of Schools Roseli Weiss said she is planning to address the issue at a meeting that will probably take place in August.
“I am calling all the presidents of the PTA, and we’ll meet and talk about safeguards, policies and procedures to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Weiss said. “Everybody’s eyes are far more open now that we know what can happen.”
That comes a day after Sharon Ellis, 37, a former Middleboro PTA president, pleaded guilty in Wareham District Court on Monday to a felony charge of larceny of more than $250 and was placed on probation for five years. She will also have to undergo a mental health evaluation and provide a DNA sample since she was convicted of a felony.
Another former PTA member, 45-year-old Douglas Russell, still faces charges. He is scheduled for a pretrial hearing on July 30.
“A term of (Ellis’s) probation is that she is not allowed to work for an organization that engages in fundraising,” said Assistant Plymouth District Attorney Russell Eonas.
Tim Sullivan, the founder of PTO Today magazine based in Wrentham, said the Middleboro embezzlement case is one “we don’t like covering as it’s very close to our world.”
Sullivan said embezzlement is a crime of financial need and opportunity, but there are safeguards that schools and leaders can put in place to help avoid it.
“First, have an audit committee,” he said.
Teresa Farley, who has been an active member of the Middleboro PTA for the past five years, said she was shocked when she learned that Ellis had been charged.
“I literally cried. I never would have thought it in a million years,” Farley said.
Farley said she had become close with Ellis over the past year and a half and counted her as a friend.
“That money needs to go back to the kids. People aren’t rich in this town. They are taking money away from their own families to give to the PTA,” Farley said.
CrisAnn Tortora, a former PTA member who worked with Ellis, said she was glad that restitution was ordered.
“But it’s not going toelp the children that already graduated from elementary school,” said Tortora, who attended Monday’s hearing.

Tortora said that no yearbooks could be purchased for needy fifth-graders at the former Burkland Elementary School due to the missing money.
“More oversight is needed,” Tortora said.
That oversight, PTO Today’s Sullivan said, should also include having another PTO or PTA officer open the monthly bank statements.
Sullivan said that having another person in addition to the treasurer looking over the statements could help keep an eye on the checks made out to cash.
Finally, Sullivan said, checks over a certain amount require two signatures.

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