Saturday, April 19, 2014 3:10 AM
Published on: Thursday, June 27, 2013
By Holden Wilen
ROCKVILLE – The Rock Terrace School community is reeling after Montgomery County Public Schools placed the principal on administrative leave following accusations of improper use of school funds.
Lyda Astrove, a local attorney and advocate for the parents and students, said the school apparently paid children for work done in a transition to work program and set up bank accounts in the children’s’ names. However, according to Astrove, parents were not aware of the money or the bank accounts.
Astrove also said parents do not know what happened to the money after it was deposited in the bank accounts.
“Cash was withdrawn,” Astrove said, “but it is unclear at this point where the cash went.”
MCPS spokesman Dana Tofig confirmed the school’s principal, Dianne Thornton, was put on administrative leave and an investigation is ongoing.
“While these are just allegations at this point, we are taking the matter very seriously and are conducting a thorough investigation,” Tofig said. “Appropriate action will be taken based on the facts of the case, once the investigation is completed. In order to protect the integrity of this investigation, we will not comment further at this time.”
Astrove said she became involved in the situation after the mother of one Rock Terrace School student came to her after applying for food stamps. The mother put in the application, but it was turned down because someone in her family was apparently receiving income. The mother later found out it was her son who was receiving income after receiving two W-2 forms showing her son made almost $1,000.
The W-2 listed MCPS as the employer, Astrove said, but it listed the address of the Rock Terrace School. After the first parent, Astrove said other parents started realizing the same thing was happening to their children, and they also went to Astrove for help.
Financial statements for the school’s independent activity fund (IAF) for fiscal years 2010-12 show there is an existing “student employment” account with a moving balance. According to MCPS, each school establishes an IAF to “promote the general welfare, education and morale of students,” as well as to finance the recognized extracurricular activities of the student body. The fund is managed by the principal.
“IAF funds come from money the school gets through other sources, other than the budget,” Tofig said.
The major sources of revenue, according to Tofig, are business activities such as fundraisers, vending machines and school stores. Though he could not say it is true of all payments, Tofig said in general money received from fees paid by parents and guardians goes into the IAF.
“There are, for instance, course fees for some classes that a parent would pay that would go into an IAF account,” Tofig said.
According to the IAF financial statements, the student employment account began fiscal year 2010 with a balance of $7,540.15 on July 1, 2009. During the year, disbursements totaled $2,446.21 to bring the ending balance on June 30, 2010, to $5093.94. During fiscal year 2011, the account had receipts of more than $8,000. There were also disbursements totaling $1,909.57, and $9,358.20 was transferred out of the account. During fiscal year 2012, the last year for which the school provided documents, the student employment account collected $204 in receipts, disbursed $61.58, and $1,252.23 was transferred from the account.
At this time, according to the financial reports, it is not known to whom the disbursements were made from the student employment accounts. The Sentinel requested MCPS make information available for the IAF purchase and transfer requests for the student employment account through the Maryland Public Information Act, but the information was not available by press time Wednesday.
The Rock Terrace School serves students ages 12-21 who have specific learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, speech and language disorders, emotional impairment, or other health impairments and issues.