Update: The Blue Paper’s story includes a link to Reitzel’s affidavit. Warning: it is awful. If this is what people go through when they report wrong-doing, it’s no surprise the school district still has problems.
Terrific story in the Blue Paper about Kathy Reiztel, the Finance Director who blew open the Acevedo scandal. Read it! It’s really well done. The Blue Paper has a way of putting things into perspective. They do a great job of providing context.
Anyhow, as a reward for her efforts on behalf of the students and the taxpayers, Ms. Reiztel was given a choice to retire, resign or be terminated. She subsequently filed a whistle-blower lawsuit.
From the article:
What is at issue here is far more than just an unlawful firing. The issue here is that School District officials not only fired the whistle-blower who discovered and reported Monique Acevedo’s theft to the chairman of the School Board, they also fired the prime witness whose testimony resulted in felony convictions for both Randy and Monique!
The article lists several incidents where employees were caught stealing from the school district. None of them were immediately fired!!! None! (Sorry for the overuse of exclamation points but this just blows my mind.)
Back in January 2005, Reitzel discovered that a teacher at Coral Shores High School (CSHS) had set up a dummy company and was billing the district for services presumably performed by that company– $22,000 at that time. Reitzel hired a forensic auditor to investigate, and the auditor concluded that the teacher was guilty of misappropriation of public funds. The case was referred to the State Department of Education Ethics Committee. So what did the School Board do? Well, basically nothing– except recommend leniency for the teacher. Subsequently, the teacher was fined $1000 and placed on probation– and he continued to teach at CSHS. In 2008, Reitzel’s staff audited the internal accounts funds at Marathon High School and confirmed concerns by the principal that $3000 was missing. The employee responsible for dealing with the cash was transferred to another position, but remained employed. He was reportedly caught stealing again, and then a third time– and was finally allowed to resign. In January 2009, while auditing daycare funds at the elementary schools, Reitzel’s staff uncovered more than $2000 missing at Plantation Key. Investigators from the State Attorney’s Office determined that the bookkeeper had been skimming funds and she was charged with grand theft. She admitted guilt and was placed on probation for two years and was required to make restitution.
Rhetorical question of the day:
Would it seem unfair here if we asked if stealing is simply part of the culture within the School District?
Nope. It’s fair to say that’s established fact at this point.
The article nails what bothers me the most about the most recent scandal, the missing $20,000. After three auditing teams have looked at the matter, nobody knows what really happened. Now the school board has hired a forensic auditor. That’s all well and good. Maybe it will help them get to the bottom of this particular incident. But how will they prevent future incidents?
More than $20,000 has gone missing from the daycare program at Horace O’Bryant School. And apparently, School District officials have absolutely no clue as to what may have happened to the money. No clue at all. None. Was the money stolen or is this latest financial scandal just the result of sloppy bookkeeping? Nobody seems to know.
There are always gray areas where it might be theft or it might be poor bookkeeping. Solid procedures can help sort out what’s what. Employees who do not follow proper procedures should be subject to discipline up to and including termination. After all, those procedures are the first line of defense. Willfully side-stepping those procedures is a red flag.
The Blue Paper also makes this excellent point:
After what happened to Kathy Reitzel, why would any potential whistle-blower ever come forward again to report wrongdoing– like the current situation at HOB?!
Exactly!!!! According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE), most cases of fraud are exposed by tips from employees. You want to do what it takes to encourage employees to come forward. Very few frauds are exposed by external audits – something around 3%.
If the school board is truly serious about discovering and preventing theft they need to create an environment where it’s safe for employees to report.
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