News

Gordon PTA board asks sheriff's department to investigate possible theft

By KIPP ROBERTSON
and RICHARD WALKER
Herald staff

KINGSTON — Gordon Elementary PTA board members have given the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Department financial records, text messages and other information related to a possible theft of PTA funds.

An investigator will study the information to determine if the disarray in financial records show evidence of criminal intent or careless bookkeeping, sheriff’s spokesman Deputy Scott Wilson said.

Gordon PTA board members went to the sheriff’s office in Silverdale on Feb. 13 after 10 a.m. to meet with a sheriff’s deputy. The reporting party was Ryan Black, Gordon PTA’s vice president. Also present were Marta Michalski, president; Tanya Guest, treasurer; and Lindsey Still, secretary.

Black told the deputy she asked a then-member of the PTA board for financial reports in January, because she wanted to see where the PTA was financially, according to the sheriff's report. Black said the member told her “there may be a problem with the financial reports.” The member later resigned and reimbursed the PTA $9,000, Black said, according to the sheriff’s report.

The PTA board found the books in such disarray, there’s no realistic way of knowing where it stood financially, Wilson said the department was told. Wilson said the PTA has been in contact with its regional director and with a forensic investigator.

The request for a sheriff’s department investigation follows approximately a month of investigation by the PTA board, including a financial review by a PTA panel that was overseen by the state PTA’s regional director.

CenCom call records show that a Gordon Elementary PTA officer called 911 on Jan. 15 to ask for advice on how to report an alleged theft of PTA funds.

The PTA officer told 911 another member stole PTA funds. The PTA officer said the member confessed to stealing the money and the PTA executive board allowed the member to pay the money back, according to the call record.

“[Reporting party] not happy with PTA board’s decision,” the call report states.

A panel of PTA members conducted a review of the Gordon PTA’s finances Jan. 17 and asked the membership on Feb. 6 for funding for a forensic audit.

State and local PTA officials have declined to comment on the investigation; the PTA officer who called 911 told the Herald all board members have signed confidentiality agreements.

While that couldn’t be confirmed, silence would be in keeping with state PTA guidelines: “It is critical that all discussions and decisions are kept confidential within the board,” the guidelines state. “Do not under any circumstances … make any public or private statements.”

After she called 911, the PTA officer received an email from the state PTA’s regional director advising her to not say anything further.

"I just want to tell you that it was not your decision alone to call the police to inform them of the theft," Cindy Kleinfelter wrote to the PTA member. "That is a board decision, IF they were to decide to do that."

The email continues, “[T]here are many things that have to happen before the police are involved. There is no documentation completed yet to even bring to them.

"You are only making things worse by talking to people. The board needs to come together to deal with this issue, not go tearing off in different directions.

"Please do not talk to ANYONE else about this ... not the school staff nor the media. It will only compound it.”

In the email, Kleinfelter wrote that the issue would be brought before the general membership when all the evidence was found.

But another PTA member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Feb. 6 meeting was “quite confusing” because of the lack of information the PTA board was able to provide.

The board asked members to approve an allocation of up to $5,000 “to have a forensic CPA look at the books,” the member said. “The scope of the audit was to be limited to money [related to] scrip and was to not go back any further than the fiscal year.”

Another member made a motion to allocate the funds. Members asked if money was missing, and the board said no. Kleinfelter advised members “that there were things they knew that they couldn’t share with us. It was really difficult to get information,” the member said.

“[Kleinfelter said] they knew there had been mishandling with the scrip and wanted to know that no money was missing somewhere else. [Kleinfelter said] forensic information might be helpful to pass on to law enforcement if the mishandling rose to the level of being criminal.”

After learning that the board did not seek CPA services through competitive bidding and did not seek someone to do it on a pro bono basis, the member withdrew the motion.

Another motion was made for the allocation to hire a forensic CPA, and the vote failed with 10 votes against and six votes in favor. “The dollar amount was the big stickler, and because of lack of bids,” the member said.

Late last year, a PTA in Bremerton investigated a possible theft, leading to the arrest of its president. In November, a Bremerton school board candidate, Wendy Stevens, was charged with first-degree theft for allegedly stealing $8,061.27 from the Naval Avenue PTA, of which she had served as president for three years. She reimbursed the PTA and entered the Kitsap County Superior Court’s felony diversion program.

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