To the point week of 5/17/07

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IT’S BEEN QUITE A WEEK here in Switzerland County. With more and more information swirling around about the situation with the school corporation – some fact and some fiction – I think that at this time it is important for all of us to take a step back and take a deep breath.

If in fact the situation is true and there is a large amount of money missing from the school’s treasury, then the officials charged with bringing those responsible to justice will do just that.

There is a great deal of information moving around the county, but the fact is – no one will know anything official until the State Board of Accounts finishes its audit and provides a report to the state office, and to the school corporation and the community.

Until that time, anything you hear is speculation.

Is it bad? Yes it is.

The civil lawsuits filed by the school corporation last Thursday indicate that the school has credible evidence that school funds were diverted from school accounts and placed in the personal account of Ann Geyman, who was the school’s corporate treasurer and business manager.

The court records place that amount over $25,000 at one point; and over $100,000 at another point.

It may very well be larger than that.

Much larger.

But no matter what the final amount is, the real aspect of this situation is the lack of regard for our children and our taxpayers and those who pay state taxes that come back to each school corporation.

Whether there is $1 missing or $100,000; the real possession that has been stolen from each and everyone one of us is the trust that was placed in a person who apparently violated that trust to her own benefit.

If this is not an isolated incident and has in fact been going on for several years, then all sorts of “checks and balances” failed to do their job to catch this.

The State Board of Accounts, whose job it is to look for specifically these types of things, may have missed it during the 2005 audit before finding something in this 2007 audit.

School officials and the board of trustees see financial statements and claims each and every month. They scour them for inconsistencies before approving each and every check.

For those who want to place blame, there’s plenty to go around, but the fact of the matter is – throwing blame around doesn’t fix the situation.

If the allegations are true, then bank statements and canceled checks and balance sheets and claims and financial reports were all falsified so that everything looked normal to those looking at those reports.

You can’t find something that you aren’t looking for.

The superintendent and other administrators and the members of the school were just as duped as each of us were, because at some point we all put our trust in others – and sometimes that trust is violated.

If there is a silver lining to this cloud – and it would be a very thin layer of silver – it is that the balances that are shown are believed to be accurate.

Say the balance sheet shows the school corporation with a cash balance of $2.5 million – then that’s what’s there. The reality is, there should be even more.

I have been told by school officials that bills have been paid and nothing is delinquent. The corporation is not in danger of going broke or running out of money.

Should this audit point to Ann Geyman and she is found guilty in civil or criminal court, then she was bonded for this very reason at an amount of $100,000 – so the school corporation should be able to recover funds up to that amount, and possibly more based on how the bonds were written each year.

As much as we would all like to panic and get angry and demand our “pound of flesh”, the simple answer is that we can do very little until that report is released – and that won’t be until it’s finished.

The school corporation has been very aggressive in pursuing avenues, from cooperating fully with state auditors to filing civil lawsuits to asking the state police to begin a criminal investigation.

But the school doesn’t have the power to put anyone in jail.

It’s a frustrating time because we all want justice, but we also know that the wheels of justice turn very slowly; and there probably won’t be any criminal charges filed at the earliest until the Indiana Attorney General and Switzerland County prosecutor Chad Lewis can see exactly how much money is missing.

Until that time, all each of us can do is sit and wait and watch. It’s not in anyone nature to be patient, but that’s what we’re going to have to be.

This isn’t a situation that’s going to go away in the next couple of days. It’s going to be with us for weeks and months and years.

I would venture to guess that each time a school board member looks at a financial report or a list of claims from now on, they are going to think about this very week and this situation.

The schools will spend more money putting more and more checks and balances into place. We will look at everyone with more of a suspicious eye, and we will never be quite sure that what we’re seeing is, in fact, the truth.

Yes, apparently we lost money, but much more valuable is the loss of trust that we each share with each other.

That may never be recovered.