GHS band parents to decide whether to pursue criminal charges

Published: Sunday, January 18, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 18, 2004 at 1:32 a.m.
It's up to Gainesville High School band parents to decide whether they want to pursue criminal charges against a parent volunteer alleged to have misused thousands of dollars in GHS Band Boosters money.
The Alachua County school district last week completed its side of the investigation into the misuse of funds raised privately on behalf of the GHS marching band. The identity of the accused has been confirmed as a GHS parent and school district employee - though not a GHS employee, said Bear Bryan, district security chief who investigated the matter.
An earlier story in the Gainesville Sun had indicated incorrectly that the person was a GHS employee.
"The only reason we became involved is because (she) happened to be a School Board employee, and not even a GHS employee," Bryan said.
The school district has not yet made public its report of the investigation, and many details still remain unclear.
"We found there was a violation of (district) policy and criminal law," he said.
"The only people who can report it (to law enforcement) are the parents themselves" because the money involved was privately gained through donations or fund-raisers, he said.
Larry Vettel, a GHS band parent, said the focus now is to have all of the missing funds returned, an amount he estimated between $5,000 and $10,000.
Though the booster club believes the accused parent has paid back much of the missing money, an ongoing audit of the club's financial records is expected to tell if more of the club's funds are missing than is estimated, Vettel said.
The GHS band parents have to meet and decide whether to report the matter to the Gainesville Police Department, Vettel said.
Bryan said the accused district employee was placed on administrative leave at the beginning of the investigation and will face unnamed sanctions related to the district's findings that she did not keep "the required accurate financial records."
Vettel said the woman served as a treasurer and had "built up trust" with the band parents.
The band parents became suspicious when bills that were supposed to be paid from the booster money surfaced as unpaid, Vettel said.
But several GHS families stepped forward to make up for the shortfall, meaning the marching band should not miss any of its normal activities, he said.
Vettel added that the alleged misuse of funds did not impair the club's ability to pay for new band uniforms, which debuted in November's University of Florida Homecoming Parade.
As far as protections for preventing similar incidents with any one of the scores of booster organizations that raise money on behalf of school functions, it remains up to each club to largely monitor itself.
GHS Principal Wiley Dixon said he doubted it would be feasible for the School Board to dictate regulations to gain more control over booster groups.
"I don't know that the school system can do something about it," Dixon said. "(If) the rules become too much, you risk losing volunteers."
It's better that booster clubs "be aware (misuse of funds) can happen and put in some safeguards," he said.

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