A months-long forensic audit of New Canaan Public Schools students’ charge accounts found no evidence that the lunch ladies charged last year with stealing cash from cafeterias also depleted those funds, district officials said Monday.
An audit designed to match transactions in point-of-sale systems in the Saxe Middle School and New Canaan High School cafeterias to supporting documentation and “reconcile cash receipts received from parents electronically to the proper recording in the students’ accounts” turned up no non-valid transactions, according to Dr. Jo-Ann Keating, the district’s director of finance and operations.
Quoting from a report from Joe Centofanti, a partner at PKF O’Connor Davies accounting and advisory firm, Keating told members of the Board of Education at their regular meeting, “ ‘It is important to note’—they always note this—‘that the testing done was performed on a sample basis and not all transactions were tested.’ Obviously, they sampled—they don’t do every single transaction. ‘However, based upon the results of the sampling, it was determined that it was not necessary to go and select additional transactions for testing.’ ”
“In other words, they did not find anything,” Keating said at the meeting, held in the Wagner Room at NCHS. “So we were very pleased with that.”
Performed at the request of the Audit Committee and with support from the district, the forensic study was launched months after two lunch ladies were accused of stealing nearly $500,000 in cash over a period of several years. The police investigation into sisters Joanne Pascarelli and Marie Wilson had started in the fall of 2017. Both pleaded not guilty to first-degree larceny. Six months ago, New Canaan Police arrested the district’s former director of food services in connection with the widely publicized theft. Bruce Gluck has pleaded not guilty to first-degree larceny, conspiracy to commit first-degree larceny and tampering. Trials are to be scheduled in each case, according to Connecticut Judicial Branch records.
According to information gleaned from arrest warrant applications, the sisters—Pascarelli had overseen the food program at Saxe while Wilson was assistant food director of New Canaan High School—used a similar method to steal money at each school: First, they allowed and in some cases, food service workers say, advised the women stationed at cash registers to take in cash without recording the transactions in the registers, then removed large bills from registers themselves, “counting out” the drawers in private at the end of the day and reporting just a small deposit of what remained.
In the weeks that followed their arrests, many parents asked whether their kids’ charge accounts also had been depleted by the lunch ladies—for example, by overcharging or “double-charging” for food.
“There was a lot of chatter at that time in town about whether or not accounts had been compromised to cover up what had happened,” Keating said.
Centofanti’s audit involved sampling records from two different POS systems (the district had changed in 2017), looking for anomalies in those records—for example, whether multiple lunches were purchased on the same day—and reviewing instances where parents had contacted Food Services in order to “take a look to any modifications they were making to the POS system on behalf of children,” Keating said.
District officials ensured Centofanti had all the information he needed and met with him as requested but did not actively participate in the audit, she said.
“We were pleased to find out that what we had initially tested ourselves, [turned] out to be what their [O’Connor Davies] conclusions were as well,” Keating said.
Board of Education member Brendan Hayes said he thought it was “a smart thing to do and engage someone externally to look at this.”
“It was clearly a concern that some parents had and based on all that work, it looks like there were really no issues, despite the concerns,” he said. “And I can definitely acknowledge parental concerns when money is being spent.”
Board of Ed Chair Katrina Parkhill said the system that the district uses now is much improved over the old one.
“As a parent you have really excellent visibility into student spending, so I think it’s just even better for our audit tracking going forward,” she said.