Ex-secretary in Howard charged in theft of $10,000 from school

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September 17, 2005|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

A former Howard County school secretary is charged with embezzling nearly $10,000 from school funds, county police said yesterday.

Ethel Collette Kirk, 51, of Laurel is accused of writing checks from a fund at Folly Quarter Middle School in Ellicott City, paid to cash, and forging the principal's signature.

Kirk was arrested Thursday at her home in the 8300 block of Mary Lee Lane after a police investigation into the school's funds. She was charged with multiple counts including theft, embezzlement and counterfeiting.

Officials at the Howard County Detention Center said Kirk was released from jail Thursday after posting $25,000 bond.

In the spring, the school's principal raised concerns about discrepancies in the school's activities account -- in which fundraising, booster clubs and student activities are managed -- and that prompted an internal audit, said Raymond Brown, the school system's chief operating officer.

The police were contacted when the audit showed that Kirk apparently had written a number of checks to herself for cash and forged the second required signature on each check, Brown said.

Kirk is accused of cashing the forged checks, which date back to May 2003, and falsifying records by indicating that the checks had been written to vendors or fictional companies, according to police.

In a phone interview yesterday, Kirk denied the charges.

Kirk, who was an employee at the school system since March 2003, resigned in June in the midst of the investigation, according to Brown.

"Of course we're concerned about it," Brown said. "But it's an isolated incident, and the system worked."

Background checks are required for all school employees, and the school system is attempting to increase control over school activity accounts, which are audited externally, Brown said.

The Howard Board of Education has approved an internal audit position in its budget, and Brown said he expects the position to be filled by the end of the year.

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