Two clerical workers at Chugiak High School, one at West High and a student nutrition worker at O'Malley Elementary School have all been fired amid allegations they stole money from the Anchorage School District, Superintendent Carol Comeau said Thursday.
The O'Malley theft allegation was of children's lunch money.
One of the four staff members fired has been charged with felonies. Gayle White, who was a Chugiak High secretary, faces charges of second degree theft and falsifying business records, said Anchorage Police Detective Anthony Pate of the financial crimes unit.
Charges are being investigated against the other three people, said Comeau, who declined to name the other suspects.
"We frankly were shocked," Comeau said. In all her years with the School District, she said, she doesn't remember a case like any of these.
O'Malley parent Steve Harris said one of his children kept coming home and saying he owed more money for lunch. Harris would give their son cash, while his wife would send checks.
"My wife told me she thought we were covered for the rest of the year," said Harris.
From now on, they'll only be sending checks, he said.
"I was really shocked," Harris said. "You would have to be in a pretty desperate situation to steal children's lunch money."
Pate said police are waiting until completion of audits being conducted by the School District before filing any more charges.
The district is checking records at all schools, said Comeau. And it will be tightening money-handling procedures in the future, including installing automated receipt systems and retraining staff, said Chad Stiteler, the district's chief financial officer.
Court records show charges were filed against White on March 18 and that she is 45 years old. She had worked at Chugiak for two years and at the district since 1998, said district officials. She was fired the day she was charged.
The other employees alleged to have taken money were fired over the past two weeks, said Eric Tollefsen, district human resources director.
The district and police don't know how much money is involved in the four cases. "It could be tens of thousands," said Pate.
The allegations at Chugiak High came to light because a staff member became suspicious, Comeau said.
At the high schools, students have come forward who wanted refunds, but the schools didn't have receipts, said Comeau. The district will reimburse money to students who can make a good case that they're due a refund, she said.
At O'Malley Elementary, the district became aware something was amiss after about 20 parents called the principal because their children's pre-paid lunch cards were running out of money before they were supposed to, Comeau said. No child was denied a lunch, the superintendent said.
The money that's missing was all cash, she said. At the high schools it had been collected for things such as library fines, parking fees and extra-curricular activity fees.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars for different fees run through each high school annually, she said. Most of the payments are not in cash, however.
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