Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Another Episode of a School Employee Allegedly Gone Bad.

The story below appeared in the Chicago Tribune
on March 1, 2006. Another reason why transparency is so important in school districts. We encourage people to investigate their own school districts.

Bail set for alleged school embezzler
By Tracy Dell'Angela and Jeff Coen
Chicago Tribune

While a former Chicago Public School manager remained jailed on felony theft charges Tuesday, the high school that entrusted her with its finances is struggling to recover from a loss of nearly half a million dollars.

Marilyn Jenkins-Evans, 47, was ordered held on $200,000 bail by Criminal Court Judge Thomas Hennelly, a day after she was arrested on allegations that she stole $457,000 from Simeon Career Academy High School, where she once worked as business manager. Investigators alleged that she wrote herself 319 checks, forged the former principal's signature and deposited them in her personal accounts over more than five years at the school.

"How is this school going to recoup that money?" asked the interim principal of the South Side school, Leonard Kenebrew. "That's $90,000 a year for five years. That could have been novels. Or microscopes. Or training for the teachers. Or field trips for the students. It's so depressing."

It was Kenebrew's arrival at the school that led to Jenkins-Evans' arrest. Kenebrew asked for an audit, a relative routine request when a new principal starts at a school-about the same time he started noticing some "red flags" about Simeon's bookkeeping.

At the time, Kenebrew didn't know that Jenkins-Evans was acting as the unofficial business manager at Simeon, a role she volunteered for on top of her central office duties supervising 10 regional business managers at 100 schools.

Kenebrew couldn't understand why several checks on school accounts were written out to Jenkins-Evans or why a high school would continue to hand-write checks and ledgers when computerized programs are widely used. He also realized that many bills had gone unpaid for a year or more, even when there was money in the account.

Former Principal John Everett has said he knew nothing about the missing money and trusted Jenkins-Evans to control school spending because she was an expert from the central office.

Sylvia Jones, a member of Simeon's local school council, said she too had questions about the way Simeon was spending money. But she said the former principal refused to share detailed information about school accounts. When she pressed for answers, she said, she was dismissed as a troublemaker.

District officials said they would work with law enforcement to recover any funds stolen from the school, including using forfeiture laws to seize assets from Jenkins-Evans if she is convicted. Spokesman Mike Vaughn added that the district will investigate whether Jenkins-Evans had access to funds at the dozens of other schools where she supervised business managers and if any money was misspent at these schools.

Every year, the district audits about 10 percent to 15 percent of the system's 600 schools. Last year, 50 of the 67 audits revealed that a school's financial accounting either "needed improvement" or was "out of compliance." Evidence of misappropriation is referred to the office of inspector general.

However, the district does not plan to start micromanaging the spending of funds that are raised by individual schools to pay for extras the district does not provide. The money is expected to be managed by principals, with oversight from local school councils.

At Jenkins-Evans' bond hearing, the judge said he was distressed by the betrayal alleged in this case.

"I am disturbed by the fact of her position, and the victim in this case, the schoolchildren of the city of Chicago," Hennelly said.

Assistant State's Atty. Patricia Woulfe told the judge that Jenkins-Evans admitted to the theft when she was first questioned and then later resigned her manager job.

Defense lawyer Michael J. Monaco said Jenkins-Evans has no criminal history and worked for years at a bank before working for the school district. She also is active in her church, New Heritage Cathedral on South Princeton Avenue. Pastor Katie Peecher and other parishioners came to the court hearing to support Jenkins-Evans.

"She is a wonderful woman," Peecher said. "She is not a criminal."

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