GTA funds reimbursed before McClaine's arrest
GUILDERLAND — A middle-school math teacher, Brenda McClaine, was arrested on March 27 for second-degree grand larceny, a felony, for stealing over $100,000 from the Guilderland Teachers’ Association, according to the Guilderland Police who made the arrest.
The GTA president, Maceo Dubose, said that the local union, affiliated with New York State United Teachers, had been reimbursed in full.
“We received our money back at the end of February,” Dubose said this week.
The check came through NYSUT, which had been investigating the case, he said, but he did not know if the funds had been returned by McClaine or not.
Neither did Captain Curtis Cox, spokesman for the Guilderland Police. “I don’t know how that money was returned,” he said.
Cox went on, “Reimbursement before or after, the crime still exists. It would still be the same crime....irregardless of reimbursement.”
“NYSUT did not cover it,” said Carl Korn, spokesman for NYSUT, explaining that the locals are covered by fidelity bonds but the reimbursement funds did not come from a fidelity bond. “I don’t know where it came from,” said Korn, suggesting The Enterprise ask McClaine. “She would know,” he said.
According to the arrest report, McClaine, 38, lives at 37 Armstrong Court in Altamont. She did not return calls from The Enterprise or respond to a note left at her home.
The GTA has about 450 members, which includes nurses, counselors, social workers, and psychologists as well as teachers. Their dues are a portion of their salaries and, Dubose said earlier, the union members pay biweekly dues of roughly $40 each.
McClaine was elected treasurer of the GTA in the spring of 2012. Her two-year term of office began on July 1, 2012.
The felony complaint, obtained by The Enterprise through a Freedom Of Information Law request, is signed by Charles B. Tanner III who investigated the case for the Guilderland Police. Tanner states that, between Aug. 13, 2012 and Oct. 28, 2013, McClaine stole $100,382.50 in currency from the First Niagara Bank account of the GTA.
Dubose said earlier that it was first noticed in the fall that the account was awry. Marie Wiles, superintendent of the Guilderland schools, said that in late October, Dubose had “shared with us he had some concerns and asked if if we could provide him with copies of checks. We did. He shared them with New York State United Teachers and they embarked on an investigation.”
Dubose filed a complaint with the Guilderland Police on March 3, reporting “some questionable transactions regarding union dues and reimbursements involving [the] treasurer,” according to the incident report.
Captain Cox said this week that NYSUT provided the police with an audit it had conducted. “They determined an exact amount,” he said, adding that “a joint investigation” led to the arrest.
Investigators are “confident” that McClaine was working alone, Cox said. “We’ve closed the case,” he said.
Korn said that NYSUT’s role was not to investigate in the sense of obtaining subpoenas or issuing warrants. He described NYSUT’s role this way: “When the Guilderland Teachers’ Association discovered some apparent irregularities in the bookkeeping...the NYSUT accounting department [was asked] to try and determine what, if anything, occurred.”
The NYSUT accounting department, he said, is “familiar with forensic audits” and “found numbers that didn’t add up.”
Korn reported, “The Guilderland Teachers’ Association took the next step and reported it to the authorities.”
McClaine was arraigned at Guilderland Town Court and released on $15,000 bail.
Cox said she is entitled to a preliminary hearing, which can be waived. Because she is charged with a felony, the case will then be “bumped to a superior court,” he said, adding that, if the higher court were to reduce the charge from a felony, it could then return to town court.
Korn said that NYSUT never represents its members in criminal investigations. “If the district were to decide to bring disciplinary charges, the union would normally represent a teacher,” said Korn but, in this case, there would be a conflict of interest so, he said, “We’d have to look at alternatives.”
Although originally Dubose “wasn’t positive” about the amount stolen, he said on Tuesday that the figure arrived at by the Guilderland Police — $100,382.50 — sounded right.
“We’re putting in place some stronger financial controls although, if someone wants to do something like that, they will find a way,” he said.
Dubose also said he had “no idea” why McClaine may have wanted to steal from the union.
“It’s an unfortunate episode in the long history of our union. We don’t want it to distract from our mission of educating children,” he said.
GTA members, he said are “expressing disappointment and sadness.”
“It’s unfortunate. It’s a sad situation,” Dubose concluded. “I have no idea why it happened.”
Similarly, Superintendent Wiles said, when asked about a possible reason for stealing, “I have no idea...and I don’t know anyone who does.”
All quiet on the Farnsworth front
“Honestly, it has been very quiet,” said Wiles this week of the reaction to McClaine’s arrest last Thursday evening.
Michael Laster, the principal of Farnsworth Middle School, sent a letter home to students’ parents last Friday, telling them about McClaine’s arrest. She worked for the district since 1999, most recently teaching math at Farnsworth to 70 students in an Academic Intervention Services program, offering additional help to sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders.
“I was with Mr. Laster Monday morning for a staff meeting,” said Wiles. “He shared what had happened...There were no questions. The meeting lasted 10 minutes. It was completely quiet throughout the district that day,” said Wiles, noting she received only one call on the matter — on Friday, from a newspaper reporter.
After Dubose had released information to the Guilderland Police in early March and shared it with union members, “The individual called in sick and was very upset,” Wiles said of McClaine at the time, without naming her. McClaine returned to school the following Monday and was then re-assigned to work on a curriculum project “so as not to disrupt the educational process,” said Wiles.
Last Friday, after being arrested the evening prior, McClaine was placed on leave. She is being paid her regular teacher’s salary, on a per diem basis, while on leave, Wiles said.
“In the days ahead,” Laster wrote in his letter to parents of Farnsworth students, “Your child may express concerns about this situation. Please consider taking some time to talk with your child as you feel appropriate or encourage them to seek out the support of our school counselors.”
No such support has been sought, said Wiles.
“This is unfortunate for everybody involved,” Wiles went on, “but at no time did we have cause to worry about the well-being of our students or the quality of Mrs. McClaine’s teaching.”
Wiles stressed, as she had before, “Our community needs to remember this was not district funds, not taxpayer dollars” that McClaine is accused of stealing.
Wiles also said, “We have a highly qualified, certified math substitute doing a fine job.” That substitute teacher took over McClaine’s classroom duties when she was first reassigned and is continuing in that role.
Wiles concluded, “There is no sense that things are not going well.”