This past September brought bleak news to the parents, students, and teachers at a northeast Dade grade school. Rumor had it that an Oak Grove Elementary staffer had walked off with thousands of dollars in school funds, necessitating a drastic cutback in supplies and the cancellation of all field trips for the academic year.
While school administrators rushed to squelch the talk of belt-tightening, they couldn't deny that money was indeed missing. A routine year-end audit this past summer had uncovered a discrepancy in the school's ledgers, and Dade County Public Schools auditors and police had opened an investigation into the matter. Officials were mum on the sum, but Oak Grove scuttlebutt put the figure near $30,000, swiped from various school kitties by a light-fingered secretary working without close supervision.
This past Wednesday, details of the investigation and crime were made public with Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Octavio Visiedo's formal recommendation to the school board that the secretary, Gloria Walker, be fired for forgery and grand theft. According to Louise Harms, executive director of the school system's Office of Professional Standards, Walker allegedly forged her principal's signature on thirteen school checks from November 1992 to this past April, when she took a parental leave of absence. Harms says Walker is accused of embezzling a total of $13,189 from the school's internal accounting budget, which includes the principal's discretionary account, student fundraising money, and PTA and booster club donations. In a letter sent to Walker by Superintendent Visiedo earlier this week, he explains that he is recommending "that the School Board suspend you and initiate dismissal proceedings against you...for violation of the Manual of Internal Accounting procedures, misappropriation of school funds, and conduct unbecoming a school board employee." The school board will take up the recommendation at its December meeting.
The 34-year-old Walker became an employee of the school system in 1976 as a student worker. She worked as a clerk and a word-processing technician before taking the secretarial post at Oak Grove. The latest evaluation in her personnel file, from May 1992, rates her as a "satisfactory" word-processing operator in the Bureau of Procurement and Materials Management. While an earlier, interim evaluation pointed out problems in Walker's interpersonal skills and in her work efficiency, the May 1992 evaluator remarks, "Gloria has demonstrated a great amount of effort and self-control in trying to correct these deficiencies and has been successful."
Even though the school board is "99.9999 percent sure" to adopt the administration's termination recommendation, Dade County Public Schools spokesman Henry Fraind says Walker's fate isn't quite finalized; she has until mid-December to request a hearing to contest the dismissal. Meanwhile, the issue has been referred to the State Attorney's Office.
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Louise Harms says the monetary shortfall already has been taken care of, and that students' education was not disrupted by its disappearance. Walker herself, though, is another matter; she was unreachable for comment and didn't return messages left at her North Dade home. Harms says Walker didn't return to work after taking leave this past spring, and that she was last seen by Oak Grove employees last June, when she visited the school. She also notes that Walker has failed to sign several receipts for letters informing her of the administrative process regarding her pending dismissal.