LITTLE FALLS, NJ - Over 120 local parents and guardians filled the gymnasium at School No. 2 during last night's School No. 2 and No. 3 Parent Teacher Association (PTA) meeting. The board addressed allegations of missing funds, which were earmarked for student activities. It was also announced that the PTA board treasurer and budget and finance committee chairperson had stepped down from their positions.
The discovery was made last month by Janelle Binetti, PTA president, after a financial audit was conducted. Binetti addressed attendees during the evening, but stated she could not answer any questions due to the ongoing investigation. She confirmed at the beginning of the meeting that the PTA is starting the school year off with a zero balance, in lieu of a certain amount of funds that was held in the organization's bank account.
Also present was Rose Acerra, New Jersey Parent Teacher Association (NJPTA) president, who confirmed that an investigation is currently underway involving missing funds that were in that account from the prior school year. Cathy Lindenbaum, NJPTA president-elect, and Dawn Gonzalez, region 1 PTA director for Bergen, Passaic, Hudson and Sussex counties, accompanied Acerra at the meeting.
Acerra explained during that the state PTA board typically assists local PTA boards with training, putting policies in place. She said procedures should include a checks and balances system, and ensuring a treasurer's report is produced, with two signatures required on every check. She confirmed that Little PTA board members did follow proper procedures for their finances.
"I want to assure all of you that this PTA did follow protocol," Acerra added.
Those in attendance were given spreadsheet of the breakdown of the income account for the 2017-2018 proposed budget, which showed a zero balance for cash on hand.
Binetti confirmed that the the PTA board treasurer and the budget and finance committee chairperson, have stepped down from their positions. Their names are being withheld as the investigation is ongoing by the Passaic County Prosecutor's Office.
"On behalf of the PTA board, I am upset and saddened as to the events that have transpired," said Binetti. "Due to the fact that it's an open investigation, I cannot answer any questions."
Binetti also stated that the previous account where the missing funds were held was recently closed and that a new account has been opened, which would entail a new policy, with training for those who would hold board positions. Binetti added that she hoped that the PTA would still receive support from the district's parent community and give children "the year they deserve."
She then directed those with questions to contact the prosecutor's office, who is handling the investigation. She then requested those volunteering for committees for the new school year to step forward. She also said going forward, the organization will have role clarification for each board position, including committee chairpersons.
Several parents spoke up during the meeting. One parent criticized the board that no one realized sooner that a large sum was missing prior to the audit. Binetti asked the parent to address the question to the PCPO. Another parent asked about procedural by-laws that members should have access to, which one board member stated were available online. Another parent asked if the resignation of the PTA treasurer and budget and finance committee chairperson was voluntarily.
"They did step down voluntarily, however, they would have been asked to resign had they attended the present meeting," Binetti noted.
Acerra told attendees that she has had to visit other districts in the state, whose parent-teacher organizations experienced similar situations.
"I've seen this before but as long as you all support your PTA board, at the end of the day, it will all end up in a good position," she said. "But cross your fingers that the money comes back."
Kathy Pocius, district parent and PTA member, expressed her sentiments after the meeting.
"I hope for a positive outcome as many of us are," she said.
Editor's Note: This story has been updated from the initial posting, which stated a specific dollar amount that we have not been able to confirm as being the amount missing.