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School system will increase oversight of parent organizations

Posted: March 11, 2013 - 4:32pm

 


Under the shadow of an unrelated neighborhood embezzlement case, Columbia County’s school board Tuesday is expected to increase financial oversight of school organizations.


Currently, the books of roughly 18 out of 49 parent fundraiser groups at 31 schools are still kept by those organization’s boards, according to Columbia School Superintendent Charles Nagle.


Officials had planned this summer to start requiring all such groups to run their accounts through each school’s office, Nagle said. The need to complete the transition before the start of next school year sped up that plan, but news that nearly $200,000 had been looted from the Stratford Property Owners Association added urgency to the policy change, he said.


That includes the Parent-Teacher Organization of Riverside Elementary School, many of whose families live in Stratford.


All of the members of the executive board of the Riverside PTO recently resigned, in part, over friction generated by the pending bookkeeping change, said former PTO president Cyndi Griffin.


“We’ve had a lot of run-ins this year where the parents of the PTO wanted to do things and the principal has not wanted us to,” Griffin said. “The financial situation, the way that came about at the last meeting, that was the last straw.”


At that February PTO board meeting, the members were startled to learn from Principal Judy Bonadio that the system was planning to take over the PTO’s books – meaning the organization would lose its status as a registered nonprofit and with it what members felt was their autonomy.


“Money is power,” Griffin said. “If the parents are in charge of the money, that gives them more power and more say in what’s happening in their children’s education.”


That won’t change under the new system, Bonadio insisted. “Essentially, all we’re doing is accounting and depositing their money. They’re still going to have all the decision-making power they’ve had long term. The only difference is the money is going to be accounted for and deposited in the bank by the school.”


It’s all about accountability, Nagle said.


“Every time somebody has a beef with the PTO president or the booster president, we get calls,” Nagle said. “‘Have you checked them? Do you know?’ It’s hard to catch it if they’re not going through our books. And it is a lot of money.”


School trustee Mike Sleeper, who also is a Stratford resident, said he’s fielded plenty of questions over both the neighborhood investigation and general accounting for PTO funds.


“This all hits home,” he said.


In some cases, it’s not unusual for the funds going through a schools’ books to hit more than half a million dollars as things such as major fundraisers and yearbook funds mount up, Nagle said. The school system has to account for all of that money during its annual audit – even if the school system doesn’t have access to the parent group’s books.


“This takes all the questions out of it, because we can give them an official audit,” Nagle said.


Meanwhile, Riverside Elementary is accepting nominations for new PTO board members, where the mass resignation surprised her, Bonadio said.


“I was a little taken aback,” she said. “I fully expected they would finish out the year. Right now we’re sort of in a holding pattern. We clearly have to get another PTO board elected... so we can have a functioning group of people who can finish out the wishes of the PTO for this year.”

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Comments (28)

Little Lamb

Give

School Superintendent Charles Nagle said:

. . . because we can give them an official audit. . . .

Why should school tax payers pay for audits of PTOs? That's a gratuity that taxpayers should not have to bear. The school system should not be in the middle when a PTO has a crooked treasurer who absconds with money. Mr. Nagle, please enter your retirement gracefully and stop this meddling in private organizations.

Sweet son

Good Question Little Lamb! And Good Point!

The school system or school office is no place for these funds to be accounted for!! Maybe a requirement for an independent audit annually paid for with PTO funds could be a proposal. But don't use tax dollars/taxpaid employees to keep the books.

I bet if you asked anyone in a school office if they wanted to take on this responsibility they would say no.

Really? How does the Stratford HOA problem really have anything to do with PTO funds. Stratford folks have learned the hard way by trusting their funds to basically one person. Whenever money is involved there is always temptation so checks and balances should be put into place to ward off situations like the one in Stratford!

Sweet son

The more you read this story.........

the smellier it gets!

Barry Paschal

Smellier?

Would you care to explain? This already is done in the majority of schools.

diamondmom

Get the facts straight!

First of all, the Stratford HOA doesn't have squat to do with the PTO situation at Riverside Elementary School....There was no "obsconding of funds" by the RES treasurer and the PTO board did not resign because of any wrong doing which is the way the article reads and what Nagle is implying....They have worked their tails off to bring a more enriching and well rounded school experience to the children who attend Riverside....they quit because he school is run by a tyrant who wants to cut out as many programs as possible, clubs, field trips, class parties etc... and the board simply got tired of hitting a brick wall whenever having to approach Bonadio with any proposal....Bonadio is supposed to be supportive of the PTO, afterall, aren't they working for the same cause? That being the best educational experience for our kids...She hides in her office, she won't greet parents,or intract with students.....there are many students at RES who have no idea who the principal is or what she looks like...In the 3 years my children attended RES, they didn't go on any field trips, join any type of clubs, and the class parties were cut down to 2 per year....So glad we're gone.....Contact the board members and get the real story.....Bonadio is not what is best for Riverside or its students!!!!!!

Barry Paschal

The facts of the story ARE straight.

The story isn't about Riverside's relationship with its principal, or about Stratford - but they're included because everyone involved, on all sides, kept bringing them up. Riverside's relevance is obvious; Stratford is relevant because so many Riverside parents live in that neighborhood and are on heightened alert about private organizations' finances.

Transplant2008

Question for Barry.

Has the CCBOE even addressed how they have the authority to take this kind of control? PTO's are independent non profit organizations. They work with the schools and principles, but ulitmately they have their own by-laws and answer to the voting members of the PTO - not the CCBOE. How has this take over been done without vote by the each school's PTO? The heightened concern is legitimate, but for the PTO's members to decide how to address the concern... not for the CCBOE to use as an execuse to assert authority they don't have.

diamondmom

Spot on!

Transplant2008, I'd like to know how hey have that authority myself....The PTO IS an independent non profit and operates as its own entity, not as part of the school system....And they are accountable to its members not the CCBOE.....This ONE principal is trying to take control and wants parents to think it is because of wrong doing...she practically said so in a letter that was sent home with students notifying parents that the board had resigned.....And Barry, you might think your facts are correct, but the article is written to imply that the board resigned because they were stealing money from the PTO account, and used the Stratford HOA incident to fuel the fire....really bad reporting!

Little Lamb

Coercion

To me, the better approach might be for the school system to offer accounting services to the PTOs as a courtesy. But to force the PTOs to surrender funds and information to the school system is unAmerican.

But then again, you know what George Washington said about government — it is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is FORCE!

Barry Paschal

My response

Diamondmom: There is nothing in this story that implies the Riverside board resigned because of allegations of wrongdoing. If you're seeing that, then you're reading something into what isn't there - expressed or implied. The PTO president quoted in the story makes it quite clear that they quit because of friction with the principal, with the way she told them about the takeover of the books representing the last straw. In fact, the entire board met with Nagle and said they didn't have a problem with turning over the books - they just didn't like the way Bonadio handled it. But this story isn't about their personality conflicts; it's about the school system demanding uniformity in the accounting for parent funds.

Where does the school system have the authority to take over the books? Here: If the organizations refuse to turn over authority for bookkeeping to the school, the school system will notify the IRS that the organization no longer is allowed to operate with cooperation of the school. That voids their nonprofit status. Conversely, if they turn over their books to the school, that eliminates the group's financial oversight - which also voids their nonprofit status. Either way it occurs, those entities must either work in cooperation with each school or they must stop operating - and after the transition, the tax deductibility of donations to the organization will be with the school's non-profit status, not that of a private entity.

And remember: This is already being done with more than 60 percent of the parent groups in Columbia County schools (11 of 18 in elementaries, 6 of 8 in middle schools, 14 of 23 in high schools), so it's not a new concept.

I hope you find these explanations helpful.

Woodwrkgguy

Check the Facts

If you go to the Riverside PTO website, you will find the January quarterly financial report from the Treasurer. In it she shows that there was a $1000+ "difference" (her terms) between her records and the bank. Any cashier knows that means you're "short" funds. The reason was cited as "software issues". That is just plain sloppy accounting. I think that's enough reason alone to want to give the bookkeeping responsibilities to professionals who have approved procedures and strict processes.

In an interview, the former PTO president was quoted as saying "money is power". That doesn't sound like someone who is concerned about school performance and student acheivement. This sounds more like a PTO that wanted to run the show, not partner with the school.

Barry Paschal

Those problems explained

Those problems with the "difference" apparently were explained to everyone's satisfaction (a software problem entered some items twice, and wouldn't allow their deletion). But the timing of it certainly didn't help their cause.

Transplant2008

Re- My Response

Thank You Barry for your response. Your response to my question of "How do they have the authority..." is sort of my understanding as well. CCBOE does not have the authority, but they can make life miserable for the PTO (contacting the IRS, not supporting functions, etc...). I disagree with your comment that they have to stop operating. They can continue to operate, just may not have the support of the school or tax exempt status, etc...

My problem with this situation is CCBOE's approach. They have taken a very adverserial approach. Instead, they should have presented their ideas and proposals to the PTO members, who in turn vote on the proposal. This is more in-line with the "working together" idea PTOs/schools are supposed to share.

As to the issue at Riverside, I am not completely aware of the situation there as my children do not attend that school. But this isn't a unique problem to that school. Often times across the country schools and PTOs have a difference of opinion on where money should be spent. The very concern of many PTO's members are that the decision making will be taken away from the PTO. While maybe not the case with the CCBOE proposal, the adveserial approach just adds to those fears.

This is why I suggest the proposal should be presented to PTO members for voting. So its very clear who is doing the bookkeeping and the spending of those funds. If it makes sense, the proposal would fly through the PTO and everyone is happy.

Barry Paschal

Adversarial approach

What perhaps muddies the waters is that the approach seems to be "adversarial" only at Riverside Elementary, where it's pretty obvious the principal could have done a better job in working with the PTO on the policy change. School system officials contend all those organizations will still work up their own budgets just like they already have; they'll just have to allow the school's bookkeeper to balance their books - and for those books to be audited regularly by the school system.

Considering most of the groups already do it that way, it doesn't seem like it will be as much of a change as some might expect.

Blue Devil in Evans

Frustrated

If you do a little more research into the discrepancy as Barry mentioned, you find that it was a software problem and that the bank account was not short. In fact, the bank was showing the PTO having more money in the bank than reflected in their books. As any cashier knows, this means you are "over".

I am not sure how it is working at other schools, but I have serious reservations about the administration at RES recording the funds correctly. I know of at least three instances where money that was earmarked for the PTO was deposited into the RES account. Missing money for PTO from Target and TrueBlue schools had been mentioned in several meetings with the principal. She failed to mention that the money had been recieved by the school and deposited into the schools account. This led to a lot of wasted time as the PTO board had to request information of the payments from both Target and TrueBlue to find where the money had been gone. More recently, a check from Publix for the PTO was deposited into the schools account. Instances like this give me pause about this schools ability for accurate record keeping.

Missing in most of the reporting of the resignation of the PTO Board at RES has been the fact that the take over of the books was just one of many problems. In fact it may have been pretty low on the list for a lot of them . Relative to other schools in the area, RES has fewer school activities, fewer field trips, in general less. My childer have been on one field trip during her time there. At other schools she would have been on 4 or 5 by now. Lack of funds had been mentioned as a reason for the dearth of field trips. The PTO set aside funds for field trips this year, but my children still haven't been on one. In fact, I don't know of many kids who have.

I also think that when the former PTO president referenced "money is power", she meant that the CCBOE is more likely to listen to parents concerns about their childs education when those parents have some control over the purse strings. Call me a cynic if you will, but that is how politics usually work. Nobody volunteers their time for an organization like this unless they care about their child's education. As for being concerned about school performance, test scores for RES have consistently dropped the last six years. I would like to see the same level of concern for that by the CCBOE as they seem to have for the bookkeeping of school organizations.

IsAmericaFree

Not a good idea

I disagree that a school should have any financial association with the PTO and Booster Club funds, as long as those group are separate legal entities. As non-profit organizations, they have their own federal and state tax guidelines they must follow. I do agree at the expense of such organizations, the books should be audited professionally once a year and such results supplied to all PTO members and the school.

I understand the need for schools to have a bookkeeper-lunch money, library dues, etc. But I do not see why a SCHOOL EMPLOYEE needs to be handling the funds of separate, non-profit organization. PTOs have treasurers. Is this a way to justify having the bookkeepers.

I cannot see the why this was instituted in the first place. Oh wait, control, control, control. Throw more people into the mix so IF something does happen with the PTO funds there will be more fingers pointing in more directions.

Marhault

Concerns with the change.

I learned of this change last night while at a sports event. Right then I didn't like it and had concerns. My concern wasn't the theft of money. It has happened at PTOs, Booster Clubs, and Schools/BOE. So one org is no better then any other. My concern was for the kids and how the money will be spent.

Years ago I stopped selling items, donating money, etc. to my child's chorus. I did this after finding out the money just went into the "general ledger - band" fund. They raised money to do a end of the year trip. They didn't get the trip, no refund of money, nada. Instead the next year new band uniforms were purchased and the band went to one of the bowl games. Fast forward to present year. My family and I are supporting the sports booster club. Donating goods, money, time, etc. One thing I was happy to see was a compromise by the sports teams so to speak. Even back when I was in high school, football is the money maker for most schools. So they get the majority of the booster support and money. Despite other sports working the fund raisers, concessions, etc. This year while football still received a large portion of money. Certain events were earmarked for other sports. Or in the case of soccer a seperate account was setup that the team raised money for. The kids / parents worked twice as hard but they also got rewarded for the work.

But now - the school will control the money. So if school staff X loves Football / Baseball but not the other sports who do you think will see the money? Track may need new uniforms but baseball gets new bats to replace the ones they just bought a year ago. The person or org that writes the checks do have the power. So the work will be done by the parents / orgs but the schools will control the purse strings.

Barry Paschal

Unpublished comments

Readers: I'm checking to see why several comments have been unpublished. I don't see anything automatic that would do so, except that some of them are very long. If I can figure out the problem, I'll get them up.

Woodwrkgguy

Treasurer's Report - Missing

Mr. Paschal, if you are reading the quarterly report on the PTO website, then you will see that it was the Treasurer herself who accounted for why there was a discrepancy. Has there been a thorough audit by someone independent of the Treasurer? And ask the Treasurer for the "revised" report that was on the PTO website, as it seems to have disappeared. Because in it you would see that the $1000+ was spread out over 12 different line items. That software was really terrible! And as Stratford residents know, it always seems to be easily explained until the truth comes out.

Like you, I'm not suggesting wrong doing, but the PTO handles upwards of $70,000 dollars in funds. Their account software can not handle it, and they are fighting tooth and nail to maintain their own books? Why? I'm all for parent groups, but when these types of funds are involved, let's let the professionals keep the books, not a part time volunteer.

Sweet son

@Barry

Thanks for continuing to make sure that all comments are posted. This topic is very dear to those who donate money and time to schools for the betterment of students!

We don't know what impact the comments will have on the situation or the CCBOE but this is clearly a hot topic with some and we appreciate your efforts!

Woodwrkgguy

Dear Frustrated

To Frustrated, you need to reread the report. You start the year with $20,439.49. Then you make $17,604.77. But somehow the bank only has $36,960.70. That is called being short. Your receipts are more than your cash. Ask a cashier what happens to them when they try to clear the register when their receipts are more than the cash in the drawer. Another reason the financials need to be done by professionals.

Transplant2008

Next Steps

The more I have looked into this, the more I am convinced the CCBOE has no legal authority to take over books of the PTO (I will admit I am not a lawyer though). Therefore, giving control of accounting to the school will need to be approved by the individual PTO members. I know my PTO has always had an open book policy for allowing the school to audit our books. However, before we hand over control of accounting and deposits, I would expect the following documentation from the school/CCBOE:
1. Who exactly will be in charge of the receipting/accounting?
2. Documentation that clearly states the school/CCBOE cannot access PTO money, nor can they restrict PTO access to that money.

Blue Devil in Evans

Concerns other than bookkeeping

The discrepancy was pointed out by the treasurer and noted clearly in the records. I doubt very seriously this would have been the case had there been any wrong doing or the county been in charge of the record keeping. As we all know government entities aren’t exactly reknowned around the world for their ability to accurately track funds. As I mentioned in my earlier posts, there is a history of PTO funds being deposited incorrectly in to the schools general account. I wouldn’t exactly call that the apex of professional accounting. Regardless, the school has emphasized that the books are fine and they are currently being audited by an independent CPA as required when a change in record keeping is made.
However, my issues with the school go a lot deeper than who is in charge of the debits and credits. My children have been on one field trip, been in one school performance. When the other schools in the area were offering the Bricks 4 Kidz after school program, RES was not. It was not until recently, after the PTO and other parents raised serious concerns, was this program miraculously started. There are no school clubs, no morning news program. No student recognition of any kind. I know several children at the school who could not pick the principal out of a one person lineup. Of course, as noted by another commentor, this would require her leaving her office. Communication at the school is lacking to say the least. Just two weeks ago, there was a puppet show program on Friday evening. This was only communicated to the parents via the sign at the front of the school the day before. Needless to say this was not well attended given the lack of notice. The principal spoke before the program about the PTO changes, contradicting a letter several times she herself had sent home to parents the day before. Like I said above, I could care less who keeps up with the finances as long as my children get the same opportunities as the kids two miles down the street. I wish the school board would show the same concern for test scores, student achievement, and student opportunities at RES as they do for who keeps up with the bake sale money.

Barry Paschal

Comments now published

The comments that weren't showing up are now published. Many times our system will flag comments as spam and hold them for moderation if they come through exceptionally long, as some of these did. They've now been reviewed and released.

Soothsayer

Bigger than Columbia County

PTO and parents are being pushed out of all CC public schools, same thing is happening at Blue Ridge MS. The PTO charters allow principals to spend the money without PTO consent. They do and then tell PTO, they have the power to do so.
They have the control and simply don't want parents involved or participaing in the school unless it is to follow their direction. Many teachers forget that without parents there are no students, without students there are no teachers, without teachers there is not a teachers union (NEA), without NEA there is likley different leadership and direction in Washington DC regarding students and education.
The direction of getting parents out of the schools is from the US Board of Education down through their NEA channels. IF they believed in parents, home schoolling would not be under attack and parents would have the freedom of choice in the school their children attend via a voucher type system.

Woodwrkgguy

Update?

In light of the issues with the PTA in Richmond County, what is the status of that PTO funded audit for the Riverside PTO? Did everything check out at the Treasurer said it would?

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