The former chief financial officer of the Grand Prairie school district was sentenced to the maximum 37 months in prison for stealing $600,000 from the district. But in accordance with state law, CFO Carolyn Foster, who spent over 20 years in the state’s public school system, is eligible to collect a public pension.
“Yes, she can collect the pension while she is in prison,” Carolyn Perez, a spokeswoman for the Teacher Retirement System, said in an email. “Under current law, the only circumstance in which a TRS member can forfeit their pension is if they are convicted of an improper relationship with a student. “
The TRS cannot confirm whether individuals opt to receive a pension, but most teachers and public school officials are eligible.
The embezzlement by Foster, 63, was discovered in 2015 by two accountants at the district who noticed cash missing that was held in a vault at the district. Foster was also ordered to pay $633,000 in restitution.
“I have zero sympathy for you, Ms. Foster,” U.S. District Judge Jane Boyle said during last week’s sentencing, according to a news report.. “You took advantage of very nice people who trusted you. … It’s just awful.”
As a retired financial executive in the public sector, Foster, who served 19 years with the Jasper school district, falls in the range of those public employees eligible for a pension. The felony, to which Foster pleaded guilty, does nothing to affect her ability to collect.
“There is nothing in the statute that voids a pension based on the situation regarding fraud against the school district,” Perez said.
The 37 month sentence Foster received is the maximum allowed under sentencing guidelines.
The money taken by Foster was cash to be used for “awards to teachers and other needs,” according to a press release from the district. The discovery came a day after Foster had left the district.
She was arrested in 2016 at the Richardson office of the charter International Leadership of Texas, where she went to work after Grand Prairie.
According to a statement from Grand Prairie ISD Superintendent Susan Hull issued at the time of the arrest, Foster “allegedly ordered the money withdrawn from district bank accounts and delivered by armored truck to the district offices. Foster then allegedly told finance department employees the money was for special cash awards for teachers for school supplies and for settlements in lawsuits. There were no such lawsuits that needed cash settlements.”
Foster, who held a certified public accountant license from 1988 to its expiration last year, is the former executive director of finance and operation in the Jasper ISD. She left the district in 2009.
Foster last year filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Among her declared assets is a $3,700 monthly pension or retirement income.
Unlike some states, including California, where the names of public pensioners and their payouts are public record, Texas confidentiality statutes exempt all government employee retirement information.
The Texas Tribune last year assembled a list of public officials and lawmakers convicted of felonies who are eligible for pensions.
A measure filed during the legislative session last year would have prohibited lawmakers from taking a pension after a conviction on specified crimes, including bribery and tampering with government records. The bill died in committee.
Steve Miller can be reached at [email protected]