Ecker aims to prevent thefts

Embezzlement case prompts action

in the region


Amid news that a former Carroll County school financial secretary has been charged with embezzling more than $200,000 over several years from South Carroll High, school system officials announced sweeping reforms to improve oversight of school finances and try to prevent such thefts.

Schools Superintendent Charles I. Ecker said the changes -- some of which take effect immediately and others that are to be in place by the time schools open Aug. 28 -- will include bolstering staff training to raise awareness about the potential for such thefts and increasing oversight of school accounts through random audits.

"Employee theft happens quite a bit in businesses and industries today and, unfortunately, in school systems," he said.

Wendy Sue Bowers, 39, of the 3800 block of Walnut Grove Road in Taneytown, is charged in eight counts with scheming to steal $206,564 since the 1999-2000 school year. Each count carries a possible 15-year sentence and $25,000 fine. Anyone convicted could also be forced to pay restitution.

The money was taken from deposits for school-based accounts for athletic events, student fundraisers, vending machine profits, yearbooks and other student activities, Ecker said last week during a news conference.

Prosecutors said they have not recovered the stolen money.

To help stem the district's vulnerability to such thefts, Ecker said, he plans to request funding in next year's budget to hire additional auditing staff in the finance department, which has only one employee -- a quality-control specialist -- whose sole job is to monitor school-based accounts.

"We may be able to find some dollars to hire a person this year, I don't know," said Ecker, who added that it would take time to determine how many additional quality-control specialists the school system needs.

In the meantime, Ecker said, school officials will randomly visit schools throughout the year to audit school records with class and club advisers.

With additional staffing, he said, they could conduct more such visits.

Bradley L. Martin, the school district's comptroller, said he likely would rely on accounting employees to help with the audits this school year.

In addition to hiring more auditors and increasing account oversight, Ecker's plan includes teaching staff to more closely monitor school-based finances and revising school-based account control procedures.

Michelle Parrish, the district's finance supervisor, said that part of the effort will include making sure that club advisers and athletic directors realize the importance of monitoring the funds they deposit with school financial secretaries.

Ecker said the stolen money would be replaced through the school district's insurance.

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