HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A day after news broke of one more Department of Education employee charged with stealing thousands of dollars from another public school, the DOE said it's cracking down to prevent employees from stealing.
The DOE said a combination of more training, more oversight and the use of new technology should curtail employee theft cases.
In the latest case, a former secretary at Fern Elementary School in Kalihi is accused of stealing nearly $15,000 from the school. Mina Muranaka is expected to plead guilty later this week to taking the money over three years, between 2007 and 2010. A source said she's accused of, among other things, using school checks to pay her rent at Kuhio Park Terrace, a state housing project in Kalihi.
In November of last year, the former Waipahu High School business manager pleaded guilty to stealing $500,000 from the school over five years. Warren Harada, 61, will spend a year and a half in prison if he can pay the money back by May 30. If he can't, his sentence will be10 years behind bars.
Last June, the former school secretary at Pearlridge Elementary pleaded guilty to stealing nearly $70,000 over two and a half years. Denise Hayashi, 41, who paid the money back, avoided prison time but must perform 1,500 hours of community service.
"To have this happen is not right for the kids, the parents that are contributing and the taxpayers," said Amy Kunz, the Department of Education's chief financial officer.
Kunz said the DOE has increased training for school employees who deal with cash and is conducting more financial audits.
"Some of them are surprise audits. But we've also looked entire audits on the local school accounts, on who they're writing their checks to. Just a very comprehensive audit on every school," Kunz said.
The DOE also plans to add new technology allowing cashless transactions when parents and kids pay for all kinds of small expenses, such as excursion and bus fees.
"Our systems are very old and we are looking at replacements of those to bring us up to date on some of the electronic processes that are available out there," Kunz said.
Kunz hopes to have new electronic payment systems installed in all public schools by the end of next school year.
"It helps give the state oversight. Right now we can't see into the systems and we can't monitor what's going on," Kunz said.
She said people will still be allowed to pay for incidental expenses at public schools with cash, but offering a cash-free alternative will cut down on the amount of cash school employees deal with and the temptation that cash creates.
The DOE also has setup an email address and a phone line to report fraud or possible criminal activity by employees. The phone number is 808-586-3587 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
"I think when people know that you're watching or they think that you may be watching, it's a deterrent for theft, because they're going to be caught sooner," Kunz said.
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