Audit alleges school funds were misused Thousands of dollars at issue in report on Milford Mill Academy

Police probe ex-principal

Piano, home repair allegedly paid for with taxpayer dollars

August 09, 1996|By Marego Athans | Marego Athans,SUN STAFF

An audit of Baltimore County's Milford Mill Academy has found evidence of the misuse of potentially thousands of dollars of school funds by the former principal, who is also the subject of a police investigation.

Among the allegations are that a piano, purchased with school funds, ended up in Principal P. Delores Mbah's Columbia home. School money was used to finish her basement, a job that was done by a member of her staff and the husband of another staff member, the report says.

In addition, one teacher at the magnet high school near Randallstown was paid for sponsoring a club she said she had never heard of, the report says. Another teacher who supervised activities was scheduled to be paid for that work when he no longer was on the payroll, according to the report.

Mbah and Patricia Brent, coordinator of Milford Mill's advanced college preparatory magnet program, face uncertain futures in the school system.

Mbah -- who was abruptly removed from her post May 17 -- was replaced and put on unpaid leave this week after collecting her $72,500 annual salary for 2 1/2 months. A county schools spokesman would not say whether Mbah is still a school system employee.

Brent -- identified in the audit as wrongly paid for extracurricular activities -- is on paid leave with her annual salary of $48,353. She could not be reached, and her lawyer would not comment.

Mbah did not return calls seeking comment yesterday, but her lawyer, J. Edward Davis, said the audit is "flawed."

"There is absolutely no validity to the charges they are making against our client," Davis said. "She has had an exemplary

record for many years and has been well-respected and honored as a teacher and a principal."

Davis would not discuss the allegations point by point, but gave one example of where he said the report was wrong: The audit states that Mbah used school money to purchase vacuum cleaners that were not found in the school. Subsequently, the vacuum cleaners turned up, he said.

"The report was so inaccurate that the vacuum cleaners are right on school property," Davis said. "It shows great discredit on the rest of the report. I think we'd be able to track the same kind of rationale as to everything they've said about her."

A school system spokesman would not comment on any part of the audit, a copy of which was obtained by The Sun.

The allegations appear to have surfaced in early spring. Former Administrative Secretary Edna M. Tiedemann, who managed the school's books, presented Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione with 40 allegations of school funds used for personal items, the use of staff members for personal services on school ** time and improper recordkeeping.

Internal auditors concluded after a review that there is "significant documentation to substantiate the allegations that were reviewed to warrant further investigation."

The audit describes several transactions, based on records and investigators' interviews with staff members:

In summer 1994, music teacher James Walker -- who moves pianos during the summer -- bought a used piano at Mbah's request and moved it to the school. He was paid $450 with a school check -- $350 for the piano and $100 to move it.

Last summer, Joseph McNeill, chairman of the school's technical programs department, moved the piano to Mbah's house, which sits on a quiet cul-de-sac in Columbia.

On May 10, when auditors inspected the school, the piano was not there.

According to Tiedemann's statements to the auditors, Mbah said she bought the piano for herself and was storing it at the school until her new home was built.

The supporting documents to the audit include a receipt, dated August 1994, from Walker -- the music teacher -- confirming the sale of the piano to Mbah. But handwritten on the bottom of the receipt is a note from an auditor: "Mr. Walker stated during the interview conducted on May 10, 1996 'this is not my signature.' "

Last summer, one current and one retired school system employee who have a business specializing in building decks and finishing basements started work on Mbah's basement.

McNeill, the technical programs chairman, and Charles Riggs, a retired tech-ed department chairman at Woodlawn High, bought worth of materials from 84 Lumber for the job. Typically, Riggs is reimbursed by the homeowner.

Last August, a school check was made payable to Mbah for $548.03, the exact amount of the invoice from 84 Lumber.

McNeill did not return calls. Riggs was out of town yesterday and could not be reached.

Brent, the magnet program coordinator, could not explain to auditors why she was paid $1,260 June 2, 1995, for "extra day" assignments -- additional responsibilities such as supervising extracurricular activities.

"It must be a mistake," the audit quotes her as saying in an interview.

Brent also said she did not know what the "Forensic Club" was, but was paid $630 as its sponsor during the 1994-1995 school year, the audit said.

She also did not know what the National Vocational Honor Society was, and didn't know she was scheduled to be paid as one of its sponsors for the last school year, according to the report.

Felix Njeh, a former teacher, was scheduled to be paid $1,750 for sponsoring the vocational honor society last year and coordinating other projects. Njeh left the school system in February, raising a question about whether he was entitled to all the money.

Mbah bought two Electrolux vacuums and a rug shampooer with school funds in October 1995. As of the May audit, the equipment was not in the school, auditors said, though Mbah's attorney says the equipment was always there and the auditors never saw it.

Tiedemann, who has been on leave for work-related stress since November, would not discuss her allegations but said yesterday: "Please don't let anyone think this is all the schools in Baltimore County. This is not."

Pub Date: 8/09/96

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