The community of a low-decile Rotorua primary school has been left shattered and will take a long time to rebuild after an employee misappropriated up to $10,000, says a Rotorua District Court judge.
Diane Ellen Tiopira, 58, was recently sentenced in the Rotorua District Court to six months' home detention, 200 hours' community work and ordered to pay $5500 reparation after previously pleading guilty to three charges of theft and seven charges of fraud.
The charges were representative, which means Tiopira committed the offences on more occasions than she was charged for.
Tiopira stole the money from Sunset Primary while employed as its executive officer - a job she held for 18 years. She no longer works at the school.
As part of her role, Tiopira would receive cash payments "across the counter" at the school office and was responsible for banking money she received.
Another part of her job was to authorise and pay invoices received by the school.
Tiopira was one of four people authorised to sign school cheques. The school's financial practices required all cheques to be signed by two of the four authorised signatories.
Tiopira took the money by either not banking amounts she received for the school or cashing cheques which were to be paid to other businesses.
She stole $3643 over several months in 2008 and 2009 but told police she had misappropriated around $5000 to $6000, possibly even as much as $10,000.
Judge McGuire said there was a "deep sense of betrayal" among those who were working their hearts out to make Sunset Primary a good school.
Judge McGuire said principal Niels Rasmussen's profound sense of betrayal was articulated on behalf of the children.
"He says 'Look at their little faces in your dreams. Have some remorse."'
The school's previous board of trustees chairwoman had worked up to 20 hours a week to restore systems and confidence in the school as a result of what Tiopira had done, Judge McGuire said.
The judge said a concern was that Tiopira had been convicted in 1984 on a charge of theft as a servant.
Tiopira had attended a restorative justice scheme, but the school had not wanted to be part of that, which was their right.
"The school community that has been shattered on account of your offending is going to take a long time to rebuild, and there is a huge amount of hurt still being felt there."
Judge McGuire said Tiopira had lost her partner to cancer in 2005 and as a result started gambling two years later and it undoubtedly got out of control.
Since her offending came to light Tiopira had sought help from the Problem Gambling Foundation in Rotorua.
Mr Rasmussen told The Daily Post school staff and students were still dealing with the effects of what Tiopira had done.
"We feel betrayed, we feel robbed. There is a lot of anger among staff and a lot of empathy for the children whohave had to bear the consequences of this."
Mr Rasmussen said that as a result of the lost funds staff had missed out on professional development and pupils had missed out on opportunities, although the school had tried to keep that to a minimum.
A principal for 30 years, Mr Rasmussen said dealing with what Tiopira had done was the "most gut-wrenching, hard, soul-searching time I have ever had to go through".
He said systems at the school were regularly reviewed and there had been a "complete overhaul" as a result of Tiopira's offending.
Mr Rasmussen said he was confident nothing like this would happen again.
Tiopira did not want to comment when contacted by The Daily Post.