Schools rally to help El Rincon after alleged embezzlement

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El Rincon Elementary School was dealt a serious public relations and fiscal blow last year when a high-ranking member of its Parent-Teachers Association was accused of a crime that left the school’s students without funding to help with field trips and other activities that children at other local schools enjoy.

But due to assistance from the school district’s five other elementary schools, as well as the middle and high schools, El Rincon students may soon be able to take part in the aforementioned activities during the next school year.

Former El Rincon PTA Treasurer Cheryl Noda was arrested last year for allegedly embezzling nearly $24,000 from the association. She was charged in April on two counts of grand theft and is currently on trial at the Airport Courthouse.

Noda was also later charged with one count of second-degree commercial burglary.

The discovery of the missing funds left the school’s PTA members depressed and created a sense of skepticism about the association among the parents, according to El Rincon PTA President Aimee Tarver.

Upon learning of Noda’s alleged actions, Culver City PTA Council President Leslie Gardner rallied the district’s sister associations to help El Rincon during its time of need.

“Because we’re in such a small town and most everyone knows each other, we heard about the trouble at El Rincon and wanted to do something to help them,” Gardner, who is also the PTA president at Culver City High School, explained.

The council PTA serves as the umbrella group for all Culver City PTAs. It has raised over $6,000 for El Rincon, according to Gardner.

Tarver is grateful for the financial assistance. “I was so honored and very surprised when I heard about the outpouring of support,” she said. “I thought it showed such unity. I was literally speechless when I found out what they were doing.”

Gardner sent a letter to the other school PTAs asking to help El Rincon and she said the affirmative response was quick. “(The suspected embezzlement), for the most part, doesn’t happen a lot and we knew that they needed help,” she added.

Tarver said the association is working very hard to attract disaffected parents back to the school and to encourage them to back the PTA. “We’re trying to build faith and trust of the PTA after what happened (with Noda),” Tarver said.

She acknowledged that it has not been easy rebuilding confidence in the El Rincon PTA after Noda’s arrest.

“It’s been an uphill battle,” the PTA president admitted. “A lot of people were skeptical, but we’re trying to use (the assistance from the council PTA) as a steppingstone to improve what we’re doing at El Rincon.”

Culver City Unified School District Board of Education member Laura Chardiet says she is not surprised that other school associations were eager to help El Rincon. “Our council PTA motto is ‘A family of schools,’” said Chardiet, a former council PTA president. “You can get more done when parents work together and there’s more reciprocity to make all boats rise.”

Gardner said it was an easy decision to help the embattled PTA. “It was hard watching them work so hard to pay of the debt (left by Noda,)” she said. “We just couldn’t let them flounder.”

The current council PTA president applauded El Rincon Principal Reginald Brunson and the school’s parent- teacher group for their efforts in working to restore trust in the school and the association.

“They’re powerhouses,” Gardner said. “They’re very courageous and the school is really lucky to have them.”

Tarver hopes the PTA council’s support will help convince El Rincon parents to believe in its school association again. “I want El Rincon parents to know that they have a PTA that is working hard to their trust,” she said. “We’re looking for volunteers for the new year and we are working hard for our parents and students.”

Some additional safeguards that the El Rincon PTA has added in an effort to prevent mismanagement of funds is from now on more that one person will be make all deposits over $1,000.

Noda is scheduled to appear in court again- after two delays- on Aug 2.

Gardner thinks the regulations pertaining to how funds are handled on PTAs, despite the alleged embezzlement, are necessary and the investigation into the reported theft of funds can serve as a cautionary tale regarding the need for oversight.

“So many people complain about rules and regulations,” the council PTA president noted. “Because of all of the rules and regulations (for PTA treasurers), it really helped to inform law enforcement in trying to put a case together.

“It’s made me appreciate (the regulations) even more.”

Tarver agrees. “I’m so grateful that we have these safeguards are in place,” she said. “Unfortunately, sometimes they don’t get followed.”

Chardiet said it was gratifying to see the parent-teacher organization working together. “We want to encourage collaboration on the board among all parent groups,” she said.

Tarver thinks the manner in which the local PTAs responded without any being asked by El Rincon shows the strength and depth of the local parent-teacher associations.

“It really has shown a sense of solidarity,” she said.

The only school that did not contribute was Linwood E. Howe Elementary. Gardner said that was due to the fact that their PTA had not voted on the matter by the end of the school year but are expected to vote when school begins in September.

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