Official: Worker may have taken $20,000

Bibb County school officials suspect a former Howard High School bookkeeper of taking more than $20,000 in school activity funds and using the money to pay her cell phone bill as well as pay for a Myrtle Beach, S.C., beach rental.

The former bookkeeper, Jennifer Harvey, 32, of Forsyth, was charged last week with theft, identity theft and credit card fraud, authorities said.

She was released from jail on an $8,300 bond.

Sylvia McGee, the school system’s acting superintendent, said Thursday that Harvey is suspected of taking money from different Howard High student club accounts, as well as athletics, over a two-year period.

“I’m very disappointed,” McGee said.

“There were items bought that were not school related.”

According to a school system campus police incident report, former Howard High School Principal Karen Yarbrough began to suspect Harvey of questionable accounting practices in the 2009-10 school year when Yarbrough saw large amounts of cash on Harvey’s desk and in her desk drawers.

That suspicion launched an audit by the district in December 2009, but everything was deemed to be in order, the report says.

But then in July of this year, a Howard High athletics official discovered the school’s athletic account at SunTrust Bank had a $1,000 negative account balance.

The account should have had a $7,500 balance, the report says.

School officials reviewed transactions from an athletic debit card that had been made to Kohl’s department store, Macy’s, the beach rental and to a Comfort Inn and Suites hotel in Vermont.

The report says both Harvey and football coach Bobby Hughes were asked by school officials about questionable expenses on the athletic account credit card, with Harvey saying some expenses were “accidental.”

She did repay about $1,400, McGee said.

Hughes, according to the report, at first denied a Vermont hotel room expense on the card, but later repaid the amount.

Hughes’ and Harvey’s cases are not related, McGee said.

Howard High has two credit cards for student funds and a debit card for athletics.

Typically a student activity account does not require district oversight, unlike athletic funds, which is how school officials say money from student accounts could have disappeared under the radar.

“Because it was a school related account, (Harvey) had general oversight,” McGee said.

“She (is suspected of) siphoning what she needed from the accounts.”

School bookkeepers in general are hired to keep track of school activity money and pay bills, such as buying club T-shirts or items for dances.

Howard High has a student council, BETA Club, DECA Club and a Future Business Leaders of America organization, among others.

McGee said Harvey resigned from her job in July as soon as she was confronted about missing school funds.

As a result of the case, administration officials encouraged principals not to issue school credit cards this school year and to use checks to pay bills as a way to have greater accountability.

To contact writer Julie Hubbard, call 744-4331.