- The Washington Times - Friday, May 30, 2003

D.C. charter school officials have accused a one-time bookkeeper of embezzling more than $50,000, in the second investigation of a charter school worker this month.

Officials at Community Academy Public Charter School in Petworth in Northwest said former bookkeeper Katherine Arnold Alfred stole $53,000 between October 2001 and August 2002.

Ms. Alfred, who was employed by the school from October 2000 until last August, told her employers that she moved to France in the fall.

“It appears that despite a well-established set of financial procedures, an amount of approximately $53,000 was embezzled from our school,” Sue Marshall, president of the school’s board of trustees, wrote in a May 16 letter to the D.C. Board of Education.

“Although our examination revealed that professionally accepted financial procedures were in place during the time the embezzlement occurred, we have instituted even more stringent requirements and monitoring of all financial transactions.”

Ms. Marshall also said school officials have met with D.C. police and intend to prosecute the reputed theft and recover what they can from insurance.

Police officials said they would investigate any matter turned over to them, but could not confirm that they are investigating Ms. Alfred.

Ms. Alfred was not available for comment.

“I am beyond shocked. I am hurt and offended,” school Principal Leonard Upson said. “We are always looking for funding sources for materials, teacher training, and then someone steals from us. This just slaps you in the face — that someone would steal money from children.”

D.C. school board officials — who oversee 16 of the city’s 39 publicly funded, independently run charter schools — expressed outrage.

“These schools are not personal bank accounts for people to take at will,” said Brenda Belton, executive director for charter schools for the D.C. Board of Education. “These are educational institutions, and they have to be accountable. We cannot tolerate this.”

Ms. Belton said she will instruct charter schools under her authority to implement more stringent financial safeguards.

In similar fashion, school board officials began revamping hiring policies for charter schools after The Washington Times reported last week that the principal of Options Public Charter School on Capitol Hill is a felon with a questionable professional history.

The principal, Clarence Edward Dixon, was convicted of theft in 1992 and credit card fraud in 1999, for which he served five months in federal prison, The Times reported. Mr. Dixon was fired within two days of the report.

Officials for the school board and Chancellor Beacon Academies Inc., the company that managed the Options school, are reviewing the school’s books after The Times inquired about purchases of alcohol, groceries and toiletries charged to the school’s credit card account. The credit card was issued to Options in Mr. Dixon’s name.

Mr. Dixon has declined to speak to The Times about his criminal or professional record. He has directed inquiries to Greenbelt lawyer David Alexander, who also declined to comment.

The D.C. school board, which authorizes and audits the 16 charter schools answerable to it, has begun scrutinizing the schools’ finances.

Earlier this year, the board declined to grant officials of Joz-Arz Therapeutic Public Charter School a “letter of good standing” to obtain more funding. A board-requested audit by the city’s chief financial officer showed a pattern of inappropriate practices.

At Community Academy, Ms. Alfred is accused of forging 53 checks written to vendors, such as AT&T; Corp., that had worked at the school, according to an internal report of an investigation by D.C. school board officials.

Ms. Alfred entered the invoices into the voucher system, printed them, then forged the signature of the signing authority, Community Academy founder Kent Amos, the report states. It says she cashed some checks by forging the signature of the recipient and cashed others by endorsing the checks to be payable to herself.

A vendor who received a tax form from the Internal Revenue Service complained that his reported income from the school was more than he received, the report states. The school’s chief financial officer investigated and discovered the forged checks. There is no evidence that other Community Academy officials or vendors were involved, the report states.

Community Academy was chartered in 1998. Mr. Amos also founded the Urban Family Institute, a nonprofit group that aims to help children in poor communities.

Community Academy enrolls 480 students. Its elementary pupils have the highest average test scores of any D.C. charter school, officials said.

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