Editorial: Is prison appropriate in Hanretty case? | August 8, 2012 | Almanac | Almanac Online |



Viewpoint - August 8, 2012

Editorial: Is prison appropriate in Hanretty case?

It is hardly a surprise that the district attorney and no doubt more than a few citizens of Portola Valley would like to see prison time included in the sentence that will be handed down Oct. 11 for Tim Hanretty, who on July 31 pleaded no contest to embezzling $101,000 from the Portola Valley School District and mismanaging funds at the Woodside Elementary School District.

The final call will be made by Superior Court Judge Mark Forcum, who will base his decision on a report by the county's probation department. At the plea hearing, Judge Forcum said he would strongly consider a probationary sentence if the former superintendent of the Portola Valley district made substantial restitution before the sentencing.

Even probation can mean up to a year in the county jail, according to District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe, who strongly believes jail is called for in this case.

"If he got probation with no time — that would be totally out of step with what the case deserves," Mr. Wagstaffe said. "This is a violation of public trust."

In our view the sentence for violating the "public trust" should also include full repayment of the stolen funds from the Portola Valley district, and at least partial restitution to the Woodside district. Both districts spent thousands of dollars on forensic auditors to track and document Mr. Hanretty's labyrinthine scheme to defraud both districts. In Woodside, the costs are ongoing as the district struggles to pay interest on $2 million that Mr. Hanretty borrowed without the school board's consent.

Hindsight shows that trustees of the Portola Valley and Woodside districts apparently were so charmed by Mr. Hanretty that they neglected to take adequate precautions against such an insider attack. Most embezzlers are clever enough to hide their tracks, but ultimately fall victim to an innocent inquiry that often leads to bringing the case into the open.

Sadly, it is the Portola Valley students who will be the biggest losers in this case. The district already has eliminated teachers' aides; and canceled or cut summer school, K-5 Spanish, support and instruction from some outside technology staff, janitorial and supply budgets, and district office staff, as well as the traditional eighth-grade trip. And teachers will be asked to cover a major part of the budget shortfall, getting hit with a possible salary freeze and elimination of as many as 10 school days.

School families and other supporters in Portola Valley already provide hundreds of thousands of dollars to the district every year that is used to upgrade the curriculum or cover other special needs. In light of the financial woes left behind by Mr. Hanretty's embezzlement and other mismanagement of funds, we hope this tightly knit community will provide even more support to help the district recover in the next few years.


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