Special Reports

Who makes sure money given to high school programs is not mismanaged?

Who makes sure money given to high school programs is not mismanaged?

EL PASO, Texas - Every year, parents hand over thousands of dollars to coaches and teachers to help fund their child's school program. 

Whether it's football, cheerleading or band, there are thousands of dollars being funneled into programs at every school in each district.

"On the side of the boosters, we have maybe once a year an issue," said Jo Galvan, with Las Cruces Public Schools, "It varies, it goes from a few thousand dollars to $20,000 to $30,000. Even if there is one dollar that is not accounted for there is a problem."

Back in June, the district faced a $20,000 problem, but it did not involve a booster. It involved a teacher.

Michele Ramsey, a Vista Middle School teacher, was accused of embezzling nearly $21,000 from the Mayfield High School Band Parent's Association. She pleaded not guilty and her trial is set for January.

Socorro Independent School faced a similar issue less than a year ago.

"We make sure that the money collected is going to the specific purpose intended and what is promised to be purchased is actually purchased," said SISD Chief Financial Officer Tony Reza.

However, an audit back in 2016 found poor accounting within the Montwood football program, and shortly after the incident, head football coach Chuch Veliz retired. Reza said the systems in place were not followed properly.

"The name of the district and the individual will be impacted," Reza said. "That's why it is important to follow all the rules and have the paperwork to protect themselves."

Several months ago, a concerned mother told ABC-7  certain funds within the Eastwood Trooperettes program were misused.

"The first year they fundraised, my daughter raised $1,800," said Letty Borrego, adding the money was raised for a trip that never happened.

"I am more frustrated with the money that was raised and nothing was done about it," she said. "How could that happen?"

ABC-7 took her complaints to the Ysleta School District and spoke with Associate Superintendent Pat O'Neill. O'Neill told ABC-7 everything was done by the books. "The money was spent in other ways and all the funds were accountable," he said. "When our auditor went in, she was able to find receipts for everything and all the money was accounted for."

However, O'Neill did say the district has dealt with incidents of mishandled money in the past. "I can think, in the last five years, there was one time an employee misappropriated funds and we filed charges with police and the employee was terminated."

The three districts ABC-7 spoke with say they are being proactive in preventing donated funds from disappearing by creating clear policies and outlining rules fundraising parties must follow: Principals must clear all fundraising events and most can only last 30 days. The district's encourage parents to know the purpose of the fundraiser before donating. Lastly, they always encourage parents to get receipts upon donating.

That oversight extends only to district employees, however. Fundraisers organized by parent organizations and booster clubs are not monitored as closely by school districts.

"They're not our employees," Reza said.

At the Socorro ISD, the school's principal and the district must approve the formation of parent organizations. Booster clubs are approved only for high schools. 

SISD provides an annual training session for their Parent Volunteer Program. It includes information on federal and state reporting, fundraising and taxes, among other topics, according to presentation materials the district shared with ABC-7.

Among the best practices shared by SISD are:

-Have two people make deposits

-Provide receipts consistently

-Have two people sign any checks

Still, Reza said, mismanaged money --whether it is by employees or volunteers-- may affect the whole district.

"All we have is our reputation and, bottom line, our district has a reputation," Reza said.




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