published Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

After alleged theft, Red Bank PTA eyes safeguards

Hamilton County School officials are recommending new financial safeguards for the Red Bank Elementary PTA after an internal investigation led to an elected officer being accused of spending nearly $1,000 in PTA funds on personal expenses.

Doris J. "Deejay" Mizzell, former president of the Red Bank PTA, is accused of misusing a PTA-issued debit card to buy pizza, a PlayStation 3 video game and make a $344 payment to EPB. She faces charges of theft of property under $500 and fraudulent use of a credit card or debit card.

Mizzell maintains her innocence and says she voluntarily resigned as the PTA president and turned herself in on Saturday after a warrant was issued for her arrest.

The Hamilton County Department of Education investigated the parent-teacher association's books after irregularities were spotted.

Officials found $904.07 in inappropriate purchases on Mizzell's debit card, which was allegedly swiped at Walmart, Dollar Tree, Hobby Lobby and Lowe's.

Mizzell didn't want to comment Tuesday on the specific purchases, but said there was no fraud because the PTA card had her name on it. And any inappropriate debit card purchases have been resolved, she said.

"Those have been worked out," she said. "Everything has been fixed."

She has had similar run-ins with the law in the past. In 2010, she pleaded guilty to several counts of passing worthless checks and received a suspended sentence. A charge of fraudulent use of a credit card was dismissed in 2010.

Mizzell runs the local Diaper Duty program, which raises money to provide disposable diapers to poor families. She said she's been involved in the Red Bank PTA since taking over as president in May.

Aside from the debit card issues, central office investigators for the school system concluded the PTA had $180 in unaccounted-for petty cash.

"We can't prove anything regarding the $180, other than it should be there and it's not there. But the purchases that were made, we can prove," said Christie Jordan, director of accounting and budgeting for the school district.

Jordan said Mizzell has agreed to make restitution, but has yet to pay back the PTA.

"We have every confidence that this unfortunate and isolated incident will not affect our program or the integrity of our dedicated PTA and the positive role that it plays in our school," Red Bank Elementary Principal Haley Brown said in a statement.

School personnel weren't involved in any of the alleged misuse of funds, Jordan said, but her department is recommending several internal controls for the PTA in light of the findings.

They recommend the group discontinue the use of debit cards, have two people present when counting cash and have a separate person review bank statements. But those are all merely suggestions since the PTA is independent of the school system, she said.

"Hamilton County Schools does not have governance over the PTAs," Jordan said.

Some of those measures are already recommended by Tennessee PTA, said Dwight Hunter, president-elect of the Hamilton County Council of PTAs.

The council acts as a support agency, but does not directly govern local PTA units, he said. It recommends PTAs use checks and require two signatures on all purchases, and members can make other purchases out of pocket and later submit them for PTA reimbursement.

"That's a standard practice of most PTAs," he said. "That's the way it should be done."

about Kevin Hardy...

Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...

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