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Lowell School Clerk on Leave As Missing Money Investigated

November 29, 2018

LOWELL -- A School Department employee was placed on paid administrative leave Tuesday following the discovery of a “significant” misappropriation of funds, according to Mayor William Samaras and Acting Superintendent Jeannine Durkin.

“It was found a significant amount of money is missing from general student activities fund,” Samaras said.

The Sun has learned a department clerk named Karen Brekalis is a suspect in the case. Brekalis is listed as a school clerk at Sullivan Middle School. In the fiscal year 2019 proposed budget, Brekalis is identified as an account business clerk in the district’s central office earning $46,368 annually.

The missing sum -- thought to be $50,000 or more -- was discovered through a system the district’s new chief financial officer, Billie Jo Turner, instituted after starting this summer, Samaras said.

According to Durkin, the central office is re-establishing past procedures and internal checks to avoid future losses.

“We are working with the city’s law department as to any steps necessary to secure the eventual recoupment of all missing funds,” she wrote in the press release.

The incident is under currently under investigation by the Lowell Police Department.

The discovery comes at a time of upheaval and financial unease in the district.

Four months after starting the process, a divided Lowell School Committee terminated Superintendent Salah Khelfaoui on Nov. 14.

A third-party audit of the district’s budget ordered in July has not yet been released to the public, but an internal review found a $2.48 million deficit even after the district received $2.2 million in additional revenue.

The response to the review among School Committee members was similarly divided with some treating it as a crisis and others calling the numbers inflated.

Earlier this summer a state audit of the food services account found the district must repay $2.1 million in improperly allocated offsets. Last month, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education agreed to a four-year payment plan starting next year.

In June, the School Committee received the third-party audit it ordered of student activity accounts for Lowell High School and Morey Elementary School. The audits recommended adopting new policies and were forwarded in June to a joint finance and policy subcommittee for consideration.

Follow Elizabeth Dobbins on Twitter @ElizDobbins

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