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Sumner School District Deals with Staff Embezzlement -- Meagan O'Halloran

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SUMNER CO- Fox 17 is tracking a disturbing trend involving your money in our waste watch report. It's something Sumner County Schools deal with time and time again.

This year, the Hendersonville High School wrestling team made an appearance in the state tournament. Shortly after that their coach made an appearance in court.

Coach William Lackey turned down our request for an interview but he'll have to face a judge on theft charges. He's accused of racking up more than $1100 dollars in personal spending on his school credit card.

"We've chosen to prosecute. It would be easy to quietly fire the person or look the other way, but we don't do that. Instead we investigate it and turn it over to the proper authorities" said Sumner County School Spokesman Jeremy Johnson.

This is now the third Sumner County school employee charged with stealing from their schools in four separate cases in the last four years. Could this be a policy problem?

"In each case you're required to submit a receipt that's reviewed by the bookkeeper, the principal, and ultimately our internal auditor" said Johnson.

The policy requires three levels of oversight but what happens when it's the person signing off on those expense reports who turns out to be the one accused of stealing?

In 2011 former Millersville Elementary School Principal Shelly Petty turned herself in after reports of missing money. Petty was accused of stealing giftcards that were supposed to be given to underprivileged students.

In 2012 former Beech Elementary School bookkeeper Penny Knight spent three months in jail after pleading guilty to theft and forgery. The State Comptrollers Office said Knight stole more than $17,000 and it went unnoticed for two years. The state claims it was a lack of oversight and checks and balances. That same year, Sumner County Schools fell into a budget shortfall, coming up millions of dollars short. It ended up delaying the start of school for several days.

It all infuriates this former school teacher and mother of two. Annie Morton-Krise ended up quitting her teaching career and this was one of the reasons why.

"As a public school teacher, I think there is a real lack of accountability for teachers. We entrust these people with our children and we can't even trust them to use school school credit cards. It's crazy" said Krise.

               

While the majority of teachers do follow the rules, the few who don't aren't painting a pretty picture in Sumner County. But is anything really being done to tighten up the system? It turns out parts of the school board's general budget policy haven't been updated in more than 18-years.

Johnson said the Board is currently in the middle of a review process and will be reviewing every single policy, Sumner County Schools have, however, banned the use of giftcards. The Board has an internal auditor on staff and every year an outside auditing firm follows up with an additional review.

"The point is we have internal controls in place where we monitor those funds and when we identify fraud we've chosen to prosecute" added Johnson.

Someone who's seen it all play out over the years is Sumner County Executive Anthony Holt.. Holt agrees some changes could be made to improve the way fundraising money is handled.

"Control is a little more difficult in that situation and we probably need to do a better job as elected officials to try and help and come up with an accounting system that is more responsible" said Holt.

As for Coach Lackey, his case is still active in court. Right now bookkeeper Penny Knight is on probation after serving 90-days in jail. Knight paid more than $19,000 back to Sumner County Schools. Principal Shelly Petty also paid restitution.Petty was reprimanded for not following accounting procedures before she transferred to Millersville Elementary School where she eventually resigned. Petty still has an active administrative and teaching license on file with the state.


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