State audit finds flaws with Poland Middle School PTO

By Rick Rouan

A budget miscue could bankrupt the parent-teacher group.

POLAND — The Poland Middle School parent-teacher organization could disband if it has to pay back $3,500 it kept from ticket sales to athletic events last year in an agreement with the athletic department, the organization’s president said.

For several years, the athletic department asked the organization to collect ticket money at athletic events, keeping half to pay for school events and giving the other half to the athletic department, said Lori Diorio, president of the PTO.

But that relationship dissolved when the state auditor’s office issued a finding for recovery against the PTO for about $3,500 it kept in the 2007-08 academic year, Diorio said.

State law dictates that, when more than $50 is collected through a “student activity program,” that money must go to a board-of-education activity fund, according to the audit.

“It’s just something we’ve always done and something we never even questioned,” said Diorio, who has been a member of the PTO since her middle-school- aged son was in kindergarten.

The PTO used the money to sponsor career-day events and sports banquets, among other events, Diorio said.

Ohio law defines a finding for recovery as the state auditor’s finding that “public money has been illegally expended, public money has been collected but not been accounted for, public money is due but has not been collected, or property has been converted or misappropriated.”

An annual state audit of the Poland Local School District’s finances found that the PTO improperly kept half of the $7,500 collected, but school administrators and the PTO president said that the money was still being used for school events.

“There’s a difference in missing money and money that was well-intentioned,” Superintendent Robert Zorn said. “The middle school PTO money didn’t go missing.”

In the school district, individual department heads are responsible for crafting a budget that is run up the chain of command to the superintendent, who writes the final budget, which has to be approved by the school board, Treasurer Don Stanovcak said.

Stanovcak said that ticket collecting for the middle school events did not use the same controls as other events, such as “ticket accountability sheets,” which allow the district to double check how many tickets were sold.

The money that the PTO gave back to the athletic department posted as a donation instead of ticket receipts, Stanovcak said.

Stanovcak said that his office would not have seen receipts for the athletic events and that the athletic department would have been responsible for the problem.

“We didn’t know anything about it at all when we first started it,” said Myron Stallsmith, the long-time athletic director who retired last year. “Not knowing any better or any different, we thought that would be a good thing to do for everybody.”

Paying a teacher or staff member to collect ticket money would have cost the department as much as the PTO was receiving through the agreement, Stallsmith said.

But now the parties are blaming each other for a lack of resolution. A lawyer for the PTO said that the treasurer has not been cooperative. The treasurer said that the PTO has not complied with a request for its financial information.

The district wants access to the PTO’s financial information to determine if a payment plan can be worked out, Stanovcak said.

Diorio said that she received the request about 10 days ago and that the organization’s treasurer was organizing the information.

The school board is meeting to discuss the audit at 6 p.m. Monday at the high school library.

Paying back the lump sum would bankrupt the PTO, which had about $2,000 in its general fund in 2007-08. The organization also has a $6,000 scholarship fund to send students on a trip to Washington D.C., Diorio said.

State law provides some latitude for repayment, including repayment plans and waivers from the attorney general.

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