Leaders of some local parent-teacher groups are discussing and evaluating how they track their funds after one Buckhead PTA member recently was accused of stealing tens of thousands of dollars from the organization.
At Heards Ferry Elementary in Sandy Springs, Parent Teacher Organization co-president Amy Callahan said she and other officers met to discuss their procedures for handling money after hearing of the accusations against a former leader of the Parent Teacher Association at E. Rivers Elementary. The Heards Ferry parents felt their safeguards and accounting systems were sound.
“Something, unfortunately, can happen at any school,” Callahan said. “I think we have safeguards in place to protect us to the best of our ability. I don’t think we’re vulnerable. But we did, we reviewed it.”
They decided to review their practices after Maryam Arjomand, 48, was arrested, accused of stealing more than $57,000 from the E. Rivers PTA.
Arjomand surrendered to detectives on April 23 and faces charges of felony theft, police reported. Police say she appropriated $57,000 in checks from donors to the Buckhead school group and deposited the checks into a personal account.
The investigation began after a PTA audit revealed inconsistencies.
PTA members said they have measures in place to protect money they receive from donations and fundraisers. Leadership in PTA groups frequently changes hands, however, and the person keeping up with the checkbook this year might not be the same person next year.
Heards Ferry co-president Callahan said her PTO requires two signatures on checks and requires that two people account for money collected for the group during fundraisers. The accounting, she said, includes recording the numbers on checks and recording the number of rolls of coins and paper bills collected during a fundraising event.
“We have two people who have laid eyes on the money before it’s deposited in the bank,” she said. “I’ve been here four years and [that system] has always been in place.”
Most PTAs are wrapping up the school year and preparing the incoming boards for the challenges of governance and budgeting. Some groups handle very large amounts of money. Heards Ferry Elementary’s budget, for instance, tops $100,000 a year.
Laura Kruglewicz, co-president of the High Point Elementary PTA in Sandy Springs, said the E. Rivers investigation will be on the agenda at its last meeting of the year. She said there is a regular audit of the organization’s books.
“We feel like we have good checks and balances in place,” she said. “We are going to have a discussion about it just to make sure we’re on track.”
Katie ElHamahmy, co-president of the Sarah Smith Elementary PTA in Buckhead, said the incident got her board members’ attention as well. She said there is an audit each summer and its conclusions are the topic of the first PTA meeting each year. She said the current board is reminding the incoming board about the board’s policies.
“We have so many checks and balances in place,” she said. “Every monthly board meeting we review our budget by line item. I just can’t imagine how something like that could happen, honestly.”
At Ashford Park Elementary in Brookhaven, PTA president Mary Alice NeSmith said her organization already watches its money carefully.
“We have a very strong PTA here. From the very beginning here we have talked about transparency,” she said. “The budget has always been public knowledge which is a wonderful thing.”
She said when the story about E. Rivers broke, the PTA treasurer sent out an email about it. NeSmith said the story was unfortunate, but also made them realize the good work that they are doing to make sure all the money the PTA collects goes into the classroom to help students.
“Sometimes we only hear the bad news that is reported on, not all the great schools in DeKalb County that are doing great work,” NeSmith said.
Heards Ferry’s Callahan said one way school groups can protect themselves is to carefully choose the people who handle a group’s funds.
“I think we are very careful in the people that are tapped to be on our board,” she said. “I’m sure all schools are. We put a lot of thought into who’s going to handle money.”
Joe Earle and Melissa Weinman contributed to this report.