By Michael Eng | Managing Editor
Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and Lakeland Police Department officials are investigating the theft of between $15,000 and $25,000 from the Parent-Teacher Association bank account for Springhead Elementary School.
According to officials, the money was removed from the account through cashing multiple checks, beginning in February. The checks were processed at a bank in Lakeland. However, because the investigation is ongoing, officials declined to give specific details regarding the case.
“The detective is still waiting for some information in this case,” said Ann Dinges, public information officer for Lakeland Police. “She cannot give me a time frame for the completion, because she has to wait for information to be provided from outside sources. Until all of the information is received, this case remains ongoing.”
Bridgitte Kramer, president of the Hillsborough County Council PTA/PTSA, confirmed the Springhead account was balanced as of February, when the PTA completed a transition to new board members.
“It was somewhere in there when the whole problem began,” Kramer said. “It’s a shame, (because) that’s the students’ money.”
Springhead’s PTA did not follow procedure regarding its bank accounts, she said. The monthly bank statements, which are required to be opened by someone other than a person authorized to sign checks on the account, weren’t distributed properly. Furthermore, an audit was not done at the end of the school year.
“They did not follow procedure,” Kramer said. “If they did, this would have been caught immediately.”
Instead, it wasn’t caught until July, when the new officers for Springhead PTA discovered the problem while attending the Florida PTA Leadership Convention in Innisbrook.
“They could tell something was really wrong, and unfortunately, it was what everyone thought,” Kramer said.
With many migrant and farmworker families, about 80% of Springhead’s student population is on the free- or reduced-lunch program. Many of its programs, including academic enrichment activities such as its popular after-school science club, are funded through PTA monies.
Springhead Principal Ann Rushing said she is heartbroken that a school parent would steal from the PTA.
“For us, it’s all about the kids, and it’s devastating, because we’ve seen these parents work so hard (to raise these funds),” she said.
Linda Cobbe, external communications manager for Hillsborough County School District, said the district is prepared to donate any funds necessary to keep the theft from affecting Springhead’s students.
“Our science department would provide supplies for science night,” she said. “If the school identifies anything that the students would miss out on because the PTA lacked funds, the district would help make sure they get what they need.”
All prospective PTA officers currently complete a basic background check, and those who are authorized to write checks go through a second with the bank, Kramer said.
This year, the Hillsborough County Council for PTA chapter is beginning a transition to new insurance coverage through Association Insurance Management Inc., which will include policies that cover situations such as theft. Furthermore, the insurance will require audits and more background checks — all of which should help eliminate the opportunity for criminal activity.
Most of all, Kramer said it is paramount that Springhead’s parents understand the new officers have taken the steps necessary to ensure this does not happen again.
“This school is one that believes in the goodness of people,” she said. “And I think those parents will rally up and jump in to help the school to get back to where it was.”
According to Springhead Elementary’s website, Lisa Shirah was listed as its PTA president. Before taking that role, she acted as its treasurer. She is no longer affiliated with the PTA.
Contact Michael Eng at [email protected].