What happened to ‘thousands of dollars’ maybe missing from South Beach school’s PTA?

Parents, teachers and students set up the South Pointe Elementary Annual Green Market on Miami Beach in January 2014.
Parents, teachers and students set up the South Pointe Elementary Annual Green Market on Miami Beach in January 2014. Miami Herald file photo

Thousands of dollars may be missing from a South Beach elementary school’s Parent Teacher Association account.

According to a police report made available Tuesday, Luis Bello, a north region administrative director for the Miami-Dade County school district, contacted an officer with the district’s police department Aug. 23 to report that “thousands of dollars” in funds were taken from South Pointe Elementary’s PTA.

Bello did not have any paperwork to back up the claim, the officer noted, but referred police to Nancy Lawther, the president of the Miami-Dade County Council of PTAs. Bello did not respond to requests for comment.

Lawther told police that her organization is conducting an audit through an outside agency to confirm possible missing funds, which could date back to the beginning of last school year. She said she wasn’t sure if theft occurred or it was a case of poor bookkeeping but said there were multiple cash transactions without receipts.

Lawther also told police that there were “several strange transactions” for Enterprise Rent-A-Car in Georgia and North Carolina that “may or may not be related.” She told police that those transactions were disputed and money was returned.

Lawther told the Miami Herald in a text message that the PTA at South Pointe Elementary, like all local units, is undergoing an annual audit. She said once the audit report is complete, the county council will “vigorously pursue all appropriate actions” consistent with Florida PTA policies.

“We work in close cooperation with all Miami Dade County Public Schools departments, including our valued partners from Miami Dade Schools Police,” she wrote.

The case has been referred to Miami Beach Police, but a spokesman there has said no one has come forward.

According to the latest tax form available, South Pointe Elementary PTA had a net fund balance of $41,624 by June 2017. That year, the PTA raised $90,000 and spent $80,000 with $28,484 spent on web marketing — more than any other expense.

When asked to comment, South Pointe Elementary PTA’s new president, Karen Cobos Latham, referred all questions to Lawther. Lawther said the books are “impeccable” under the new board, but would not clarify which current members served on previous boards.

Reached by phone, 2016-17 South Pointe PTA treasurer Stacey Ambrosio said she was unaware of any theft or missing funds. “When I was there, everything was fine,” she said. “We’re talking about a PTA that raises money one pizza slice at a time.”

Last year’s president, Pamela Manool, could not be reached for comment. She is also listed as the enrichment liaison of Friends of South Pointe Elementary, a separate nonprofit supporting the school, for the 2017-18 school year.

Friends of South Pointe Elementary did not return requests for comment.

Latham wrote in an email to South Pointe Elementary families on Thursday that the new PTA board will implement new processes and procedures, including a new point of sale system, a financial management manual outlining all processes and procedures, an external quarterly audit of transactions and the creation of budgets for the PTA General Assembly to vote on.

“We want to assure that your new PTA Board is doing all we can to resolve any issues we encountered upon entering, as well as to ensure transparency and best financial practices going forward,” she wrote. “To our new Board, it became immediately clear that the PTA needed stronger auditing and financial management systems, which we have put in place.”

The PTA held a meeting at the school Friday. Miami-Dade County School Board member Martin Karp attended briefly.

“There’s a group of involved parents who have done exceptional work there and we owe it to them to know the full story when people take their money and contribute to the school’s PTA,” he said. “It can be upsetting, but I know it’s being looked at.”

Karp said Lawther, Bello, the administrator who first contacted police, past county PTA president Alvin Gainey and county PTA advocacy chair Mindy Gould were also in attendance. Gainey also did not return requests for comment.

Contact Colleen Wright at 305-376-3003 and @Colleen_Wright.

Angie Gallo, legislation chair for the Florida PTA, explains why PTA members want a statewide requirement for 20 minutes a day of elementary school recess.