While Phoenix Police are still probing thousands of dollars in missing funds from the Monte Vista Elementary PTO, the nonprofit’s new officers are steadily whittling away at the red ink they inherited when they took office in May.
Meanwhile, a number of Ahwatukee restaurants and local businesses are helping the new board with what they can to claw its way out of an $11,000 debt. The reality and impact of up to $20,000 in missing PTO funds will likely be felt by the PTO – and the school – for months to come.
Teachers who normally received grants of $300 to $500 for classroom supplies at the start of the school year received nothing when the school year began last month. Monte Vista’s PTO Co-Vice President Robin Barrett said, “We don’t know if they’ll get anything this year.”
Some PTO officers, including Barrett, have donated supplies for an art integration program because the $1,500 the art department usually banks on, was not in the PTOs bank account.
The board is holding fundraisers just to cover the normal expenses of on-campus events. That’s because the treasury is dry, while the board focuses on making good on delinquent bills left by its predecessors.
As for the investigation, Barrett said, it’s anyone’s guess when Phoenix Police will finish.
“They told me they have a lot of cases ahead of ours and that it could take seven to 10 months,” Barrett said, adding she was told by detectives not to bother calling for any updates on the investigation.
“They definitely aren’t interested in us calling them for updates, so we wait,” Barrett said.
“They have all the evidence and it’s fully in their hands. Hopefully, they will be able to get us some closure soon,” Barrett explained.
Since tax returns have not been filed for the last two years, the new PTO has secured the pro-bono services of an accountant to help to file.
“We hope we can find a lawyer who will help us pro-bono,” Barrett added.
Normally this time of year, the PTO donates new books for its Family Reading Program, but now it has some changes.
This year, the PTO is running a book drive throughout September just to keep the program afloat, asking for gently used, age-appropriate books for students in kindergarten through fifth grade.
“You are providing a free book reward to our students who complete their monthly reading hours,” the group’s flyer explains. “For every book, you donate, you are sharing the joy of reading with one of our Monte Vista students.”
Books can be dropped off at the school, during regular school hours at 15221 S. Ray Road.
But, it’s not all grim news for the PTO officers, who discovered the financial nightmare shortly after they took office in May.
Thanks to the generosity of parents, businesses and even strangers, the PTO is making strides in carrying out its mission “to serve the families of our school through fundraising and events.”
Two weeks ago, the PTO hosted an on-campus evening for Monte Vista’s WATCH D.O.G.S program, an outreach of the Arkansas-based nonprofit, National Center for Fathering, founded in 1990 with the purpose of “turning the hearts of fathers to their children.”
WATCH D.O.G.S. – an acronym for Dads of Great Students – consists of “fathers, grandfathers, uncles, and other father-figures who volunteer (at the schools) for at least one day each year,” according to the centers’ website.
The program response from fathers in the community was so successful that Monte Vista has a father volunteer for every school day until early spring.
Sadly, the PTO was unable to treat the father’s to dinner as it has in previous years.
“But fortunately, six restaurants stepped up and provided it,” Barrett said.
Those Ahwatukee restaurants were Zoyo Neighborhood Yogurt, Chick-fil-A, Forencia Pizza Bistro, Native, Texas Roadhouse and Tukee’s Sports Grille.
Several weeks ago, the PTO got a booster shot in the arm from another Ahwatukee restaurant.
Modern Market gave the PTO half the proceeds for meals ordered by anyone mentioning the PTO’s name.
The California-based restaurant group touts these fundraisers as part of its corporate mission.
“Healthy is our lifestyle, and to us, healthy is about more than the food we eat,” the company says on its website. “It is how we treat others and how we conduct business. We believe in supporting …our guests and the communities we serve. One way we accomplish this is by partnering with local nonprofits.”
Barrett said, “We had a fantastic turnout” that raised close to $1,000. Moreover, “it was also a lot of fun,” she said.
Another fundraiser at the Ahwatukee Chick-fil-A raised about $300.
“We appreciate all the businesses that have helped us,” Barrett said.
Phoenix Police spokesman Det. Luis A. Samudio said the department has its reasons for keeping mum about the investigation.
“We have to remember that these are allegations,” Samudio said. “The investigators have to have enough to establish a criminal charge.”
“Keep in mind these investigations can be very complicated. Investigators have to wait for documents from the banks and in this case documents from the PTO or the school,” he added. “I am sure the audit process takes time, not to mention the other cases investigators can be working on.”
It’s unclear what school records might have been sought since the Kyrene School District has no formal oversight or relationship with PTOs. Typically PTOs are independent organizations created by parents to aid teachers and staff at their children’s school in varieties of ways, including arts, sports or other extra programs.
Since the shortage was discovered, the PTO board has taken several measures “to ensure financial accountability and transparency,” according to a letter it sent to parents shortly after the new board took over.
The new PTO adopted a policy requiring two separate board members to sign any check for more than $50. It’s unclear whether the previous board had any such policy and if it did, Barrett said, “it may have been more than $200.”
“To the best of our knowledge an annual audit for the past two years under the previous board was not performed,” she also told AFN.
The additional tasks and stress of raising money, maintaining what events they can and keeping the PTO viable have been taxing for new officers.
However, Barrett said they’ve developed a close relationship and cover each other’s backs.
Meanwhile, the PTO is looking for business sponsors for its Annual Pumpkin STEAM Fest 6-8:30 p.m. Oct. 18.
The festival will celebrate science, technology, engineering, arts and math through a variety of activities for kids of all ages.
Being close to Halloween, students are encouraged to decorate pumpkins for a committee based judging contest on Oct 18. After sunset tea lights will be lit inside all submitted pumpkins lining the walkway of the school.
“We still need help funding our programs,” Barrett said, adding, “We are very excited about our STEAM event because it’ll be fun and educational and we plan to make it free for our students, families and community.”
The PTO also is developing many other tax-deductible sponsorship opportunities with businesses. They are also looking into other opportunities to help both the PTO and Monte Vista.