A Prineville elementary school teacher was sentenced to a 10-day jail term and 500 hours of community service for mishandling nearly $10,000 while serving as treasurer for the 2016 graduating class of Redmond High School.
Cheryl Lynn Sumerlin appeared Tuesday in Deschutes County Circuit Court having agreed to plead no contest to two counts of identity theft and two counts of fraudulent use of a credit card.
Sumerlin, 47, has been a teacher in the Crook County School District since 2001. She currently teaches at Barnes Butte Elementary.
By accepting responsibility for four misdemeanors — and none of the felonies she originally faced — Sumerlin will likely keep her teaching certificate and her job, her attorney told the judge.
In 2015, Sumerlin’s child was a senior at Redmond High School and Sumerlin was a member of the RHS Senior Grad Committee, which is made up parents who help plan senior activities and the year-end celebration.
“She did not volunteer to be treasurer — she was drafted,” said Sumerlin’s attorney, Peter Parnickis. “She did not have any particular financial skills other than handling her own affairs.”
Sumerlin was an authorized user of the grad committee’s bank account. From March 2015 to July 2016, she used the committee’s debit card to borrow money from the account. She also wrote checks to herself from the grad committee account.
Irregularities came to light when a member of the next grad committee noticed a deficit of $329. A school employee examined the accounts and noted numerous examples of unauthorized withdrawals.
Before she was arrested, Sumerlin repaid nearly all the money with checks from her personal account totaling $9,477.
Sumerlin was arraigned in July 2017.
The case was delayed as both sides hired forensic accountants to investigate the school’s books.
Parnickis asked Judge Ray Crutchley to give his client community service and submitted letters from her supporters.
“She’s quite skilled working with kids,” Parnickis said. “We feel that’s a far better use of her talents for the community.”
The prosecution came to court Tuesday requesting Sumerlin serve 10 days in jail and work 200 hours of community service.
Prosecutor Cliff Lu said it didn’t matter that Sumerlin had a long history of volunteerism in the community.
“She has done many things, many of them beneficial,” Lu said. “It’s not that the state thinks this particular person is a bad person. But she did a bad thing and we think that the appropriate sentence is 10 days because it was a breach of a trust that was given to her.”
Lu noted that graduations, like weddings, happen only once, and repaying the 2016 graduating class would be impossible.
Before she was sentenced, Sumerlin addressed the judge, and blamed her “poor accounting skills.”
“I would like to say that I am deeply sorry at how my actions and my inexperience at handling an account like this has created confusion about where the money went,” she said. “It was never my intent to steal money from the students, and I feel like I did not steal money. I am saddened that my actions have been misinterpreted as stealing from the students.”
Crutchley told the defendant her comments sounded like excuses.
“Your statement is somewhat at odds with the statement your attorney made,” he told her. “I don’t want you to stand here and make excuses. You did not have authority to borrow money from that account, regardless of your good intentions. It is as simple as that.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0325, firstname.lastname@example.org