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Thefts of Harford school funds are inexcusable, preventable [Editorial]

For generations, there have been reports of thefts from Harford County Public Schools.

We're talking about the thefts of money and other resources from the school system, not the theft of cash, electronics and such stuff from individual students and staff, but thefts presumably by members of the school community.

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In the most recent case made public, an Aberdeen woman has been charged with stealing nearly $125,000 from Homestead-Wakefield Elementary School in Bel Air since 2008. We offer no comment on either the merits of the case or the suspect's guilt or innocence.

It is well worth noting, however, that thefts from the school system is very much like "the song that never ends. It just goes on and on my friend." Yeah, that one, the very annoying ditty that gets more annoying each time it's repeated.

Every time there is an allegation of theft, the school system harrumphs, puffs up and trots out the same old tired clichés about financial policies, internal controls, yadda, yadda, yadda.

"We have reviewed all accounting policies and controls systemwide," Jillian Lader, manager of communications for Harford County Public Schools, said in the wake of last week's arrest. "We continue to reinforce our control policies and procedures to ensure they are maintained and we continually train all staff members about the necessity of proper controls and the maintenance of proper controls."

And yet, here's another allegation of a major theft. The charges allege this has been going on for at least seven years.

Seven years and no one in Harford County Public Schools realized $125,000 might be missing from just one of its elementary schools?

That sounds like a system that at best needs to be fixed and at worst is non-existent.

In 2011, according to last week's Aegis story, "HCPS officials acknowledged that up to $10,000 had gone missing from Patterson Mill High School between September 2009 and October 2010. The missing funds were cash receipts collected at sporting events, according to a police report filed by HCPS." No one was ever charged.

That is not the first time, nor is it likely to be the last either, that gate receipts have been stolen from a Harford County public high school. The latest allegation is from an elementary school where they don't collect money for admission to sporting events.

It's way past time for Harford County Public Schools to get its financial house in order. After decades and decades of thefts, it's time for the school system to put in real financial controls, ones that will detect irregularities, if not outright thefts, right away.

It's inexcusable for $125,000 to be missing over a seven-year period and the school system should stop trying to find an excuse for such an embarrassing incident.

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