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For the second time in the last year, an officer within a Waukesha elementary school Parent Teacher Organization has been accused of stealing money from the PTO.

Hawthorne STEM Elementary School's PTO has been suspended after a PTO officer, who has since been removed from the position, allegedly took more than $14,000 from the organization without authorization, Superintendent Todd Gray said in a memo to the school's PTO officers on Dec. 18.

During the suspension, Gray said the PTO won't be allowed to use school facilities or the school's name in any capacity until three measures are taken.

·An audit of the PTO financial records and checking/bank accounts for the last two school years is completed by an independent accountant or agent approved by the district office.

·A good-faith effort is made toward the restitution for all the money taken illegally from the PTO accounts.

·New officers are approved by the parent-members of the PTO of Hawthorne Elementary School.

"We certainly did not wish to take this type of action," Gray said in the memo. "However it is our belief that in order for the Hawthorne Elementary School community to overcome the damage done from this situation, these measures need to be completed to regain the necessary belief that the PTO is operating in accordance with our shared expectations.

"Some stakeholders will interpret these corrective measures as a premature judgment of guilt or innocence; however the district sees them as necessary steps to allow the PTO to move forward."

In a followup memo on Jan. 5 to parents at the school, Gray said the school has been in contact with PTO officers "regarding various financial ambiguities and discrepancies with regard to certain PTO accounts and resources" over the last several months.

Capt. Dan Baumann said the Waukesha Police Department isn't investigating the incident at the moment. "No victims have come forth," Baumann told Waukesha NOW.

According to the police blotter, a concerned parent called police on Jan. 11 to report the incident saying the PTO president admitted to the PTO Board she stole $14,000 and has since resigned. The caller said some of the board members don't want to report the incident to police, while other PTO members are angry and wanted to report it. Police said this is a civil matter unless the PTO decides to file a complaint. 

Repayment efforts

According to a letter from a PTO representative to Hawthorne Elementary School parents on Jan. 11, the organization confronted the individual, who has taken full responsibility and is cooperating.

After becoming aware of the situation earlier this school year, the PTO sought the guidance of the district and met with the district's Chief Financial Officer Darren Clark to outline suggested money handling procedures. The PTO then voided and eliminated all of the debit cards that had been put in place a few years prior.

"At this time we have worked out a repayment agreement making sure the funds would be repaid before the end of the school year," the PTO's memo said. "However, if this agreement is not followed precisely or if the funds are not repaid by the due date, the authorities will be notified immediately. The PTO has currently received over 45 percent of the funds in repayment."

The PTO's memo adds that it is in the process of an audit to review current and past financial records.

No district control

Last year, a former treasurer for the Banting Elementary School Parent Teacher Organization was charged with stealing about $26,000 of PTO funds and using some of the money for personal use.

Ann Paquette, who in the criminal complaint said she had in the past taken money directly out of a cash box after PTO events and sometimes did not pay the money back, is scheduled to enter a plea on Thursday, Jan. 14, during a hearing at the Waukesha County Courthouse.

Clark said despite recent issues with two PTOs in the district, he doesn't foresee a scenario in which the district would begin to have oversight over a PTO or a booster club.

The school district isn't responsible for PTO accounts and doesn't have any direct control over them.

However, Gray said some action needed to be made by the district.

"The district believes that specific steps need to be taken to provide the PTO a benchmark to move forward from," Gray said. "This process starts with adequately correcting this matter and insuring that precautions are taken to prevent additional financial issues in the future."

Gray also said that despite rumors, the PTO is not disbanded.

Clark said he hopes by him sending out accounting guidelines for parent organizations/booster clubs to follow in November that the organizations understand financial expectations.

Clark said a lack of credibility and trust within these organizations is a consequence from these situations.

"I've worked in accounting with schools for about 20 years and rarely have to talk to PTOs," Clark said. "Normally, it's not an issue."

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