Ten months before a string of thefts at Patterson Mill Middle/High School totaling more than $10,000, a felony theft of more than $1,000 occurred at the school on February 6, 2009. The earlier theft involved cash and personal checks stolen from the office of the school’s lead secretary, according to a report from the Harford County Sheriff’s Office. The funds in both cases had been collected by Patterson Mill in relation to school activities.
While no charges were filed in either case, HCSO spokeswoman Monica Worrell told The Dagger that law enforcement was aware of the earlier crime during the investigation which followed the thefts of more than $10,000 between December 9, 2009 and September 16, 2010.
That investigation was concluded in July of this year, with HCSO representatives saying at the time that the Harford County State’s Attorney’s office declined to prosecute due to “too many questions surrounding employee accessibility [to the money] and a lack of accountability in the handling of the money.”
Before the entire series of Patterson Mill thefts, a 2008 state audit had recommended that Harford County Public Schools improve controls over its collection of cash and check receipts, and school officials reported that the auditors’ recommendation had been followed in a December 2008 report to the Harford County Board of Education.
After the Patterson Mill thefts in 2009 and 2010, Superintendent Robert M. Tomback issued countywide procedures for the management of funds collected at all schools. The procedures were adopted and made effective July 29, according to documents obtained by The Dagger.
Auditors Called for Improved Controls Over School Funds in 2008 Report
Auditors from the Maryland General Assembly Office of Legislative Audits noted the need for better controls over funds collected by Harford County Public Schools, as indicated by the following excerpts from their May 2008 Financial Management Practices Performance Audit Report:
“The HCPS internal auditor conducts audits of school activity funds. The internal auditor’s review and testing of the school activity funds at HCPS schools identified some control weaknesses at certain schools that were addressed by school management. The internal auditor’s reports we reviewed did not disclose any fraudulent acts and the control weaknesses identified were not prevalent, but were isolated to particular schools.
HCPS should improve controls over its collection of cash and check receipts by ensuring accountability and safeguarding for these collections from the time they are initially received until they are deposited at a bank. Independent verifications should be performed to ensure all amounts received were deposited timely and intact, and agreed to related receivable records (when applicable).”
Harford County Public School officials reported that the auditors’ recommendation was “done”, in a December 8, 2008 presentation to the Harford County Board of Education. The thefts at Patterson Mill began two months later.
Monetary thefts in HCPS have occurred six times in the past three school years, according to data supplied to The Dagger by HCPS. In addition to the two felony thefts at Patterson Mill, thefts of either school funds or funds belonging to individuals occurred twice at Edgewood Middle, once at Havre de Grace High and once at Homestead Wakefield Elementary. In each of those four cases, the amounts were under $500.
Superintendent Issues Procedures for the Management of Funds Collected at All Schools
Teri Kranefeld, manager of communications for Harford County Public Schools, said in an e-mail that the school system’s policies and procedures for handling school activity funds were breached in the $10,000 string of thefts at Patterson Mill, which occurred between December 9, 2009 and September 16, 2010. But the policies and procedures in place at the time of the Patterson Mill thefts have not been made public, despite repeated requests by The Dagger.
After the Patterson Mill thefts, Superintendent Robert M. Tomback issued countywide procedures for the management of funds that are collected by all schools, according to documents dated July 29. An accompanying procedure manual, also dated July 2011, outlines methods for the proper control, collection and deposit of cash and checks related to school activities. The manual includes a series of forms to be used by schools whenever such funds are collected, deposited or disbursed.
The new procedures also outline the duties of school staff and place responsibility for the proper financial management of funds collected by schools as follows:
“The financial management of all school activity funds shall be the responsibility of the Principal. Proper financial management of school activity funds includes the safeguarding of funds, maintenance of sound accounting practices and adequate internal controls, authorization of expenditures, recording of receipts and expenditurs using a uniform chart of accounts, timely and accurate reporting on the use of school activity funds and compliance with all laws and regulations.
Principals shall be responsible for the orientation of staff in regards to all policies, procedures and manuals pertaining to school activity funds.
The duties required to properly safeguard, account for and manage may be delegated to the degree deemed appropriate by the Principal, however, ultimate responsibility shall remain with the Principal.”
Below is the complete HCPS Procedure for Management of Funds Collected at Schools, adopted and made effective July 29, 2011.