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Parents charge San Francisco elementary school PTA
with embezzlement

By Brigid Gaffikin, Bay City News Service

June 13, 2006

SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) - Up to $16,000 may have been improperly taken from a bank account holding money collected by students and parents at a San Francisco elementary school and some parents are charging that the school's former board of the parent-teacher association embezzled the funds.

Around 660 students attend E.R. Taylor Elementary School, on 423 Burrows St. in San Francisco's Portola District, and parents are upset that some of the money raised by students over the past three years can't be accounted for, according to Ed Jew, who is helping parents liaise with the school administration and district.

Jew said fundraising morale at the school has dropped and that the children will be the ultimate losers if the case is not resolved.

"We want to basically recover the money for our kids," he said.

A Cinco de Mayo event planned this year had to be funded by parents and a school camping trip was cut from two days to one because of the account shortfall, he said.

Jew said that the school's incoming PTA requested an audit through the district PTA after parents found the school repeatedly came up short whenever they asked for documentation relating to money made through fundraising activities.

Ellen Zhou, who has a daughter in first grade and a son in second grade at the school, and who has been a parent at the school for three years, said that parents became frustrated in May 2005 when the school couldn't explain what had happened to money raised at a schoolyard fundraiser.

Parents asking how much money had been collected at the sale were told organizers didn't know how much money had come in, she said.

Compounding their frustration, many parents in the school don't speak English and found it difficult to understand documents relating to the PTA's activities, Jew said.

In November, after months of PTA queries, the school produced six months worth of bank statements showing an apparently healthy account balance.

But when parents went to the Bank of America where the account had been opened and asked for statements to confirm the balance, they found a difference of around $8,000 between what was reported in the statements the school had given them and what the bank's records reflected, according to Jew.

Parents are also concerned about what has happened to another $8,000 raised in a recent school event, he said.

It's pretty evident that bank statements were altered, Jew said. A complete audit will show that "the record keeping is very sloppy from previous years" and that more money may have been embezzled, he said.

The money in the PTA account is raised through events like candy sales and holiday sales and brings in a little at a time, Zhou said. Funds collected are normally used for after-school activities and Saturday sports for the school's students as well as emergency school supplies.

Lorna Ho, spokeswoman for the San Francisco Unified School District, said that the parents' claims are under investigation and that the district is working with the district attorney's office.

"We take the matter very seriously and plan to get to the bottom of the matter," she said.

PTA funds in general are not administered by the district but at specific school sites, Ho said.

But if the investigation finds that money is missing and that the loss is impacting children, "we will obviously take steps to address that situation." Ho couldn't confirm whether that meant the district would compensate the school financially for any loss.

Copyright © 2006 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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