The good news in the missing-money scandal at Evans Middle School is that the nearly $1,700 believed to have been taken by the former booster club treasurer is being returned.
The bad news is that the booster clubs books are so sloppy that its unlikely Helen Grant could be prosecuted for stealing the money, even if her fellow boosters had the stomach for it. The boosters leniency is almost as upsetting as the message that bookkeepers can get away with theft just by doing a poor job of record-keeping.
All this comes as the countys school board is striving for greater accountability from such fund-raising groups. Even before the clumsily hushed Evans Middle case, county officials worried about the sometimes lax way boosters handle their privately raised funds.
Its a lot to keep track of: with 27 schools, and multiple groups at some schools, oversight has generally fallen to principals. Because the funds arent taxpayer money, however, oversight has generally been limited to offering suggestions for expenditures and making the case for fund-raising projects.
In recent months, however, the countys school administration sought more scrutiny, and the Columbia County School Board two weeks ago approved changes in policies governing booster club accountability. Up until this point, we really didnt provide these booster groups with financial guidelines giving them a system of checks and balances so they could better control and give account for the money thats received and spent, says Superintendent Tommy Price.
Those new guidelines include suggestions for tracking receipts and expenditures, and call for a series of audits during the year. Some schools, such as Evans Middle, will take the further step of routing all booster money through the school itself.
The Evans Middle episode is troubling, and many parents are justifiably furious that the ex-treasurer escapes punishment for taking money from their children. Fortunately such thefts seem to be rare; and, as the recent embezzlement from the Windmill Homeowners Association demonstrates, certainly arent isolated to schools.
For the most part, booster clubs do a fine job of providing extras to kids that taxpayers dont fund, and the school systems policy changes clearly are needed. The boosters themselves, though, must be willing to police their own ranks when bad apples are found, or else face a drop in donations from parents who dont want to give their money to thieves.
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