Funds diverted from class without proper authorization

First place, in-depth news writing

Piggy+bank

Photo by Fabian Blank on Unsplash

C.K. McClatchy’s principal Peter Lambert and Associated Study Body coordinator Darell T. Martin are alleged to have diverted over $8,000 of student-fundraised money from the 2017 class account, according to social science teachers and 2018 class sponsors Lori Jablonski and Tim Griffin.

For their senior gift, the class of 2017 intended on adorning the lobby of McClatchy with golden plaques of famous alumni–a “Wall of Fame” exhibition. Class sponsors Jablonski and Griffin, helped students research and set aside $11,541 from class funds for the exhibit.

To ensure the project’s execution, Jablonski and Griffin were deliberate in CCing Principal Lambert on an email chain that specified the exact amount of money in the 2017 class account, along with various project intricacies. After the district vetoed the exhibition at the beginning of the 2018 school year due to architectural concerns, the exhibit went back to the drawing board.

“[Principal Lambert was] well aware that there was a project that didn’t happen,” said Griffin. When shown the coinciding documents, Mr. Lambert repeatedly claimed he didn’t remember the history of the account.

Throughout the remainder of the 2018-19 school year, “Mr. Griffin would check in with the bookkeeper every 6 months, just to make sure we still have money in the account,” said Jablonski. Moraima Ibarra, the bookkeeper/controller during the 2018 school year, confirmed that the money in the account remained at $11,541 and was ready to be deployed for a new version of the senior project.

According to the Account Analysis Report ranging from July 1, 2018 to Aug 28, 2019, the $11,541 in the 2017 class account remained untouched until June 12, the very last day of the 2018-2019 school year.

On June 12, 2018, $8,722 was diverted from the account to pay off various unauthorized overtime charges ranging from $10 to $6,349. This extensive string of withdrawal forms also indicate that only Martin and Principal Peter Lambert authorized the withdrawals of thousands of dollars, without the required signatures of a student and the class sponsor overseeing the account.

When asked about the authorization signature of his own overtime charges, Martin said “back when I worked the overtime I wasn’t in this position, but then I got this position so it’s part of the job so would I sign off on my own overtime.” He continued, “I don’t get to say ‘oh I can’t do that because the question would be: did you work graduation as overtime capacity and the answer would be yes, because again, I wasn’t a teacher at that time.”

In the Account Analysis Report, Joakima Gregg’s overtime was the only transfer in which her exact overtime (in hours) was not reported. In all other overtime payments to campus monitors, their hours were listed in the purpose.

When Lambert was asked about the withdrawals, including Gregg’s overtime, he said that the district mandates a blanket overtime withdrawal that he cannot control. While proceeding to say that he “doesn’t recall” the history of the $6,000 withdrawal form and why it has his signature on it.

At the time of this printing, Martin has not yet given a response when asked about the withdrawals he signed for that account.

When the 2019-20 school year began, C.K. McClatchy obtained a new controller Deborah Greco. On Sept 10, Griffin met with Greco to confirm that the account stood at $11,541.

However, when Greco pulled the official financial invoice per Griffin’s request, the account balance only stood at $2,819.

Upon further investigation, Jablonski and Griffin uncovered the string of withdrawals from the account to pay off staff overtime claims and various other charges. Griffin says that “the authorization to pay out a lot of these checks was done on June 12 –the last day of school …and there was no student body signature.”

A response regarding the withdrawals without student authorization was not received by Martin. Principal Lambert does not recall the history of the account.

“The line item invoice of the withdrawals from the account… included overtime pay for people including about $6,300 to Ms. Gregg,” Jablonski explained. $6,000 of the $8,000 withdrawn was paid to Joakima Gregg.

Joakima Gregg held the position of the campus controller prior to Ms. Greco and Ms. Ibara. Griffin explained that $6,000 in overtime pay is the equivalent of 213 hours of overtime, or about eigh straight days of work. However, the official withdrawal report leaves no indication of when those hours took place, or what those 213 hours were spent doing.

As the only two people who signed the authorization form, without student approval, Martin and Lambert are the only people who can explain how such a great accumulation of overtime functions.

“The questionable thing here is that this was all done in secrecy with our principal and student activities director (Martin),” Griffin said. ”If we hadn’t checked, then the money would still be missing.”

In an email sent on behalf of class sponsors Lori Jablonski and Tim Griffin, addressed to the district’s deputy superintendent, the manager and head of legal services, and the district’s Auditor Analyst, it read: “We recently discovered that $8721.79 of student raised money was improperly used to reimburse payment to several current and one former district employee for unspecified ‘overtime’ work dating back over two years. We had no knowledge of the reimbursements and note that they appear to be approved by our principal.”

A day later, Lambert visited Griffin and Jablonski in the social science hall. “Here at lunch, Lambert comes in with two pieces of paper and he says something to the effect of ‘…There was a mistake, and the money is back in the account. Everything is fine.’ And he hands me the piece of paper so I can see that the money is back [in the account]. But the piece of paper he hands me was not the class of 2017, it was the class of 2018…and they had done similar things with their class money also.” Jablonski explained.

Jablonski and Griffin explained that money was withdrawn from not one, but two class accounts unbeknownst to all class sponsors and students who dedicated hours to fundraise this very money through bake sales, Quickly fundraisers, and car washes.

As of now, the Class of 2017 and 2018 are now fully reimbursed. With $8,722 from 2017, and $3,497 from 2018, there was ultimately a combined total of $12,219 diverted.

However, Jablonski and Griffin reflected that it took Lambert less than a day to rectify the accounts–from September 10 at 5 pm, to September 11 at 12:30 pm, Lambert (and the district) transferred over $12,000 back into the accounts from a “Student Equity Fund.” Bridget Martinez, one of the class of 2018 sponsors, was in the social science office during the interaction with Lambert on Sept 11.

Upon realizing that her class account had been withdrawn from, she proceeded to look for any inappropriate activity that was overlooked towards the end of the 2018 school year. She discovered a string of withdrawals from the class account on June 12, the last day of school, and the same day that the 2017 money was taken.

Ms. Martinez said that she “didn’t find out stuff was taken until they put the money back into the account.” This is because “at the end of the year last year, we thought we had used every last penny of the account.”

Yet, after Lambert said both accounts were reimbursed in full, Ms. Martinez, not knowing anything had even been missing to begin with, now saw $3,497 back in the 2018 class fund. Similarly, this diverted class money was used to payout overtime claims to various staff members without her approval or student authorization. However, one major peculiarity that Martinez took note of was an overtime payout to Martin.

Martinez explained that Martin would have requested and sign off on his own overtime charge of $225 for his reported “Overtime” at Senior Graduation.

Upon seeing Martin’s overtime payout, Ms. Martinez commented, “There’s some illegitimacy to it when you write your own invoice and your own hours and sign off on paying yourself… it seems like a huge conflict of interest….”.

Unsure as to what the now graduated class of 2018 intends to do with the now reimbursed money draws more frustration for Martinez. She says the entire situation is “unfair, unjust and immoral… I don’t have any faith that anything is going to be done about it…. I’m not going to go to the principal and be like, that was pretty shady…definitely Mr. Martin doesn’t care that what he did was shady, and I don’t have any faith in the district supporting claims by teachers…”

Greco has since tightened procedures on account withdrawals to ensure this same instance of monetary diversion without the proper authorization does not occur again. However, when asked about this instance of inappropriate administrative behavior, she said The Prospector should not rile up students over a past controversy that has since been resolved, as the accounts are now rectified in full.

Sacramento City Unified School District relies on the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team Handbook (FCMAT) for ASB fund procedures and overall financial budgeting. The official handbook stipulates that 3 people’s approval are necessary for new purchase orders or withdrawals.

FCMAT cites California Legislative Education Code Article 2 (48933) which specifically says that fund expenditure is “subject to the approval of each of the following three persons… an employee or official of the school district… the certificated employee who is the designated adviser… and a representative of the student body organization.”

Every purchase order for overtime charges, is required to be signed off by a student representative.

The problem the class sponsors have is that all $12,219 dollars were spent without student and advisor knowledge and approval.

FCMAT also says that if an account is inactive for 18 months the account funds can be returned to ASB general. However, class sponsors of 2017 maintained an email chain and constant check ins with the controller and Lambert which affirmed their interest for the money in the account.

Griffin says he would argue that those constant actions were in fact proof that this money was not just left lying around for the taking. Whereas, the 2018 account was inactive for only four months.

Griffin says, “The people who took the money from the account, knew, and they were even apart of the planning [for the exhibit]…. The idea that he didn’t know [what the money was meant for] is just false.”