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Springhead Elementary PTA hopes to overcome deficit after embezzlement arrest

PLANT CITY — The Springhead Elementary School PTA pays for everything from student achievement awards to graduation banquets for fifth-graders to field trips to family movie nights.

Most years, the group puts aside thousands of dollars to cover costs. Not this year.

The group is entering the school year with a $2,500 deficit after what Lakeland police describe was a five-month embezzlement scheme by the PTA's former treasurer, Lisa Shirah, 34, to rake in thousands in PTA funds. Shirah, a Plant City resident, was arrested Sept. 7 and faces numerous counts of forgery, uttering a forged instrument, grand theft and scheming to defraud.

The 140-member Springhead PTA has since tightened its fiscal controls and insists it's moving ahead with programs. But the group is mulling a future without seed money and concedes that some events might be scaled back.

"We're going to try our best to accommodate all of the students' needs," PTA president Kris Trottier said. "We don't want to skimp on the kids. Our goal make sure the children are taken care of."

At least one PTA event will feel the impact, though. The menu for this year's fall festival will likely feature a spaghetti dinner instead of the usual fare of hamburgers, hot dogs, roasted corn cobs and boiled peanuts.

"We'll still have cotton candy, snow cones and candied apples, items that are pretty inexpensive to purchase up front, but we won't have the hamburgers and hot dogs," she said.

For other events, the group will play it by ear — and take wherever help it can get from parents and businesses.

Some year-end student incentives, such as lapel pins for citizenship, honor roll and perfect attendance, will be paid for by the school, but the PTA will need to repay those funds at some point, Trottier said.

The group also plans to proceed with its annual banquet for graduating fifth-graders and trip to Busch Gardens. Whether it can pull off those events will depend on how much it raises between now and then.

The first of Trottier's appeals was expected this week at an open house. The group will turn to other events, as well, including its annual cookie-dough sale in October, ongoing PTA membership drive and a free family movie night where PTA members sell refreshments. The group also collects juice and cereal box tops from students and is considering a second movie night and a Breakfast with Santa in December.

"We're hoping the families come back and support them," said Bridgitte Kramer, president of the Hillsborough County Council PTA/PTSA. "They're just devastated by this."

Police say Shirah pocketed more than $16,000 by claiming expenses and then convincing board members to co-sign checks to reimburse her. The books and bank statements went unchecked until past-due notices started arriving at the school. The PTA still owes $2,500 for expenses from last year. Its vendors have agreed to payment plans, but so far they haven't forgiven the debt.

"Its just upsetting," Trottier said. "We worked with (Shirah) over the summer, worked at planning all these activities, and behind that facade she knew there was no money to begin with."

To make a donation to the PTA, call the Springhead Elementary School at (813) 757-9321.

Rich Shopes can be reached at rshopes@tampabay.com or (813) 661-2454.

Springhead Elementary PTA hopes to overcome deficit after embezzlement arrest 09/20/12 [Last modified: Thursday, September 20, 2012 4:30am]
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