Ex-bookkeeper arrested in theft

Coleman

A former Freedom Park Elementary School bookkeeper has been arrested on charges she took school money.

 

Toya Coleman, 31, was charged Thursday with two felony counts of first-degree forgery and one felony count of theft by taking.

The case of a former Glenn Hills High School bookkeeper, who resigned over missing school money, prompted an audit of every Richmond County public high school. It found several shortcomings in each school's accounting practices, Superintendent Dr. Frank Roberson announced during a 45-minute news conference Thursday afternoon.

Lt. Richard Roundtree of the Richmond County School System's Department of School Safety said an internal audit of Freedom Park, where Coleman was bookkeeper for two years before resigning in June, showed that she had taken more than $3,000.

The two forgery counts relate to two checks for less than $500 each that Coleman cashed from school funds, forging the principal's signature, Roundtree said. The theft count stems from her stealing more than $3,000 in cash that was raised during a school book fair, said Linda LaMarr, the school district's internal auditor.

Roundtree said both the internal audit and criminal investigation continue. Roberson said during the news conference that he wants to finish the investigation into Freedom Park, which has a total of $24,000 unaccounted for from the 2008-09 and 2009-10 fiscal years, by Dec. 10.

Roundtree said it is possible more charges might be brought against Coleman or other individuals.

Roberson also announced that Freedom Park Principal Rita Bradley will become assistant principal of Butler High School, and Pauline Andrews, an assistant principal at Butler, will become interim principal at Freedom Park. Those changes will take place Nov. 29.

Roberson stressed that there is no evidence that points to any financial wrongdoing by Bradley, but fiscal accountability, the superintendent said, is a primary duty of any principal.

"We aim to take our responsibility of being better than good stewards of public funds seriously," Roberson said in explaining the change.

Roberson added that he met with Freedom Park parents Wednesday evening.

"They issued an appeal to have her return to the school if it is discovered -- and at this point, we don't have any evidence to suggest that any of the dollars are in her possession," he said.

Roberson said the Freedom Park principal's job will be advertised in February, and Andrews will have the opportunity to apply for it, along with other internal and external candidates. Bradley will be in the assistant principal job at Butler High permanently, so long as the investigation does not implicate her in any wrongdoing.

He also announced the results of an audit of every Richmond County public high school. It showed that every school had at least two problems with its fiscal accounting practices in the 2009-10 school year.

That audit was done in response to an incident last year involving a former bookkeeper at Glenn Hills High, who resigned after $14,417 in student activities money went missing. Bridgette Thompkins was not charged and was allowed to pay the money back. The principal, Wayne Frazier, was suspended for 10 days without pay in connection with the incident and given a letter of reprimand.

Glenn Hills had the most problems, in 10 of 14 areas, the high school audits found. Laney High had the fewest, with problems in two areas.

Roberson said the district will now require every school to submit an assurance form every 30 days certifying that the school has followed all accounting standards. The principal and bookkeeper of each school will have to sign the form.

"The assurances will be submitted at each 30-day interval to the internal audit department -- without exception -- and reviewed by the respective executive director," he said. "Any accounting issue, as it relates to the standards, will be brought to the attention of the superintendent immediately."

Statement by Richmond County schools Superintendent Frank Roberson and summary of high school audit findings

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