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PTA should be more open when something’s awry | In Our Opinion
After they learned that money was missing from the Gordon Elementary School PTA, local and state PTA officials immediately found themselves walking a tightrope: they had to investigate an alleged theft of funds from an organization that raises money for school programs, but keep it all under wraps — in part, to avoid besmirching anyone’s reputation; in part, as one state PTA official put it, to protect the PTA’s “brand.”
We understand the state and local PTA’s dilemma. Much of the tension, however, is the result of conflicting PTA policy. On its website, you’ll find the state PTA’s two-page policy on how to prevent embezzlement and what to do when embezzlement is suspected: First, conduct a financial review. Second, call the regional PTA director. Three, take “every reasonable step” to collect or recover the missing funds.
Here’s where it gets tricky. “It is critical that all discussions and decisions are kept confidential within the board,” the policy states. But the policy also states, “All actions of the board of directors must be recorded in the minutes of the board.” And “At some point, the board of directors must report the missing funds, as well as the board’s attempt to recover the funds, to the membership.”
So, what happened when the Gordon PTA board asked the membership to approve an allocation of $5,000 for a forensic audit? The board couldn’t answer any questions because of the state PTA’s confidentiality rules. With more questions than answers, the membership voted the request down.
In this case, the state PTA’s rules have been taken to the extreme — perhaps out of embarrassment, perhaps out of a desire to protect the PTA’s reputation. There’s nothing wrong with the truth: The Gordon PTA conducted a financial review; a member of the PTA admitted taking money, reimbursed the PTA $9,000 and resigned; the financial records are a mess, and the PTA wants a forensic audit to make sure no other money is missing. Any charges would be up to the prosecuting attorney’s office pending a sheriff’s department investigation. No one who might be suspected is identified, everyone is clear on what happened and what the status of the investigation is. And, equally important, the PTA is clear that it is on top of the matter and is committed to resolving it.
The state and local PTA would have served the best interests of the public — the PTA’s biggest investors — if they were open about what we now know: Here’s what happened, here’s the status, we’re on top of it and, if necessary, justice will be done. That, we believe, would go much farther than silence in protecting the PTA’s brand as an advocate for children and education.