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D.A. Probes Disappearance of Student Activity Funds : Education: Up to $100,000 is missing from El Rancho High School in Pico Rivera. Home of the former bookkeeper, who is now a board member, is searched.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The district attorney’s office is investigating the disappearance of as much as $100,000 from student activity funds at a Pico Rivera high school, and has searched the home of a school board member who once worked as the school’s bookkeeper.

Authorities searched the home of board member Eleanor C. Cole this week, said Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office. She would not elaborate, and Cole declined to comment. Cole resigned as bookkeeper in November after she was elected to the school board.

School district officials contacted authorities after auditors discovered that student activity funds were missing at El Rancho High School. Auditors found that receipts were made out to students who paid for such items as gym clothes, prom photographs and lost identification cards, but there was no record that the money was deposited.

Auditors estimated that $25,000 to $100,000 disappeared in the 1992-93 school year. The audit, conducted by an accounting firm, advised El Rancho Unified School District officials to contact outside authorities.

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School board members and administrators refused to comment on the audit. John T. Sherman, former district superintendent, said he contacted the district attorney’s office in November at the school board’s request.

Auditors said they found shoddy bookkeeping and inadequate controls over how officials handled student activity funds.

Employees apparently were extremely lax about depositing cash, waiting months after the money was collected before making a deposit, according to the audit. At one point, as much as $47,000 had been collected but not deposited.

“The delaying of deposits increases the possibility that funds may be misappropriated or unaccounted for,” the audit stated.

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Some records that should have been kept by the school were also missing, including books that showed how much cash had been collected from students. About 105 receipt books were missing, making it impossible to track the flow of money in the student activity fund, according to the report.

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Student activities apparently were not affected by the losses because the district dipped into other funds to cover shortfalls, auditors said.

Administrators were faulted for not instituting controls, such as dividing the duties of the bookkeeper in charge of student activity funds with other school officials. The bookkeeper had the sole responsibility for signing checks, depositing money and reviewing bank statements, making it difficult for errors to be caught.

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Soon after the problems were discovered, the district’s central office took over bookkeeping at the high school, Sherman said.

Acting Supt. Anne Eichman would not comment on the district attorney’s investigation. But she said the district tightened bookkeeping practices at all schools and in the central office about two years ago, after county education officials found problems in the district’s bookkeeping records. She would not elaborate.

“You’ve got more checks and balances built in,” Eichman said. “We are now following correct procedures.”

The 10,700-student El Rancho district operates schools in the city of Pico Rivera.

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