It would be hard to top the embezzlement scheme of $20 million (and still counting) in Washington, D.C.’s tax and revenue office. Despite the competition, however, the saga of how activity funds vanish from Washington’s public schools is still shocking. In a piece headlined “Student Money Vanishes, but Few are Punished,” you can get a glimpse at the competence of a vast portion of Washington’s “educators.”

Student activity funds take in around $6 million yearly, and much of that money vanishes, because “employees handle cash, checks and records so haphazardly that money easily disappears.” Haphazard accounting isn’t the only problem:

“Nae M. Davis, a longtime principal at Burroughs Elementary School, spent thousands of dollars in student money on herself, buying lobster, veal, a Palm Pilot and DVDs. When a parent-teacher group requested money for field trips and books, she said there was none, court records show. Davis, who no longer works for the District, pleaded guilty to theft in 2005….

“Carmen McCall, was placed in control of the student activity fund at Eliot Junior High School despite a prior conviction for felony theft in the District. A school audit in November 2006 found that McCall admitted to investigators that after getting the job, she pocketed more than $6,000, falsified records and misappropriated federal money to cover her trail. McCall, who no longer works at the school, said: ‘I’ve taken care of it with the District and that’s all I’m going to say.’ …

“Investigators found that Anacostia’s student fund records were in such a shambles that they could not determine how much money was missing. Cash was never recorded or never deposited into the accounts, investigators reported. So the ‘total loss to the . . . account could not be established,’ they noted. ‘The investigation into the misappropriation . . . revealed mismanagement and accounting irregularities.’…”

And at one school, Moten,  the chess team had to cancel a trip because the money was missing:

“The auditor’s office determined that about $72,000 that had been donated was ‘either stolen, embezzled, misappropriated or misused.’ Jones had ‘complete and absolute control’ over the account because [Principal Herbert A.] Boyd ‘abdicated all financial responsibility’ to her, according to the audit.”

I was struck by the description of those placed in charge of the money:

“Many business managers and principals entrusted with student money have had problems with their own finances. Public records show that nearly one-fourth of the more than 400 people who have been listed in school and city records as business managers or principals since 2003 have experienced personal bankruptcies, judgments or lawsuits over unpaid bills, foreclosures, liens or wage garnishments. One business manager was charged with writing bad checks in Pennsylvania.”

This is the culture of much of the public school system in Washington, D.C. Is there any wonder that it falls fall short in the noble job of educating children?