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$20,000 missing from PTA account

The Baltimore Sun

A member of Lisbon Elementary School's PTA is suspected of taking more than $20,000 from the organization's account, the president of the PTA Council of Howard County confirmed.

Although neither police nor school officials would release the name of the person who is suspected, both confirmed that the money is missing from the account.

Mary Jane Barbato-Grauso, president of PTA Council of Howard County, said her office had been notified about the missing money.

"I know that they [Lisbon PTA officials] are looking to secure that money back," Barbato-Grauso said. "I know that they have spoken with the insurance company about getting their money back."

No criminal charges have been filed, according to a county Police Department spokeswoman.

"We are investigating a case of that nature, but I cannot confirm who that person is," said Pfc. Jennifer Reidy, a police spokeswoman. "You have the case in its infancy."

Cindy Johnson, president of the Lisbon PTA, declined to comment about the allegations.

"I think it would be premature for us to speak," said Johnson, who is not suspected of any wrongdoing. "I'm not going to have an interview with the press at this time."

Diane Mikulis, chairman of the Howard County Board of Education, said that the PTA is an important partner with the administration and the teaching staff "whether it be volunteers or [contributions of] money."

Mikulis, a former PTA president, said that the incident at Lisbon Elementary underscores the need for all PTA and PTSA organizations to have a tracking mechanism in place.

"PTAs do so many good things for our schools," the chairman said. "This gives them a bad name."

This is not the first time that money is alleged to have been stolen from a Howard County school or a school-related volunteer organization.

In January, Ethel Collette Kirk, 53, formerly of Laurel, was sentenced to seven years, with all but six months suspended, for embezzling more than $10,000 from Folly Quarter Middle School activity funds over a two-year period. She was a secretary at the school.

Patti Caplan, spokeswoman for the school system, stressed that PTA funds are separate from school system money.

Barbato-Grauso said Lisbon Elementary is the only school PTA she knows of that has experienced financial irregularities this school year.

"We were as surprised as they were," she said. "This is our only one."

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