Thursday, June 19, 2008

Teacher allegedly stole school funds.

Yesterday I reported on the need for education financial transparency. The article below appeared in the Union Leader and further highlights the need for education financial transparency in all school districts. If check registers were posted online it may deter incidents like this from occurring in the future.


Pelham teacher surrenders on theft charge
New Hampshire Union Leader Correspondent

PELHAM – An elementary school teacher placed herself into police custody yesterday morning after authorities issued a warrant for her arrest for allegedly stealing money from a school fund.

Police charged Lisa K. Harris, 50, of Pelham, with a felony - theft by unauthorized taking - after an investigation indicated that Harris had allegedly transferred $4,600.00 from the Pelham Elementary Sunshine Fund into her personal Sovereign Bank account.

According to school principal Alicia LaFrance, the theft came to her attention in late April when members of the Sunshine Committee -- a group of faculty and staff who meet regularly and voluntarily collect contributions to fund staff events as well as purchase flowers for those who have had a family member pass away during the school year -- alerted her to money missing from their account.

LaFrance contacted the Superintendent of schools, as well as the school business manager, before confronting Harris. An instruction assistant who worked with special needs children, Harris resigned in early May. LaFrance forwarded all information to the police soon after.

Police began investigating the missing funds in late May and used a search warrant to determine the ownership of the bank account the money had been electronically transferred into between May 16 and May 28. A warrant was issued and Harris turned herself in at 11:00 a.m. Wednesday.

Harris had served as the president and treasurer of the Sunshine Committee. It was her first year as a member of the organization.

LaFrance, who had worked with Harris for four years, described her as "well-liked by the staff" and "very friendly."

"I think [the staff] felt very angry and violated, that someone amongst themselves would take from them or steal from them," she said. "There are certain members of the school who lost family members during the school year who were very saddened by what happened, that money had been taken away from their grieving families."

The shortage of funds would make it more difficult for the school to hold annual end-of-the-year events for leaving staff, but according to LaFrance they were doing their best to make ends meet. The ordeal has tightened the coordination and management of the fund in the future, she said.

"We're making sure that more than one member of the committee is signing checks and balancing the account and the committee is meeting more often with monthly financial reports," she said.

According to Lt. Gary Fisher, this is not the first time a town employee has stolen from town funds.

"We had a rec center director several years ago who was embezzaling funds," he said. "It doesn't happen often, but it's not uncommon."

Harris was booked without incident and was released on a $5,000.00 recognizance bail. She will appear before the New Hampshire District Court in Salem on Jul. 14.

No comments: