The former principal of a tiny East Vancouver school is facing allegations she misappropriated about $170,000 in school funds, including gift cards that were supposed to go to families in need.
The Vancouver School Board (VSB) filed suit in B.C. Supreme Court on Friday against Tricia Rooney, also known as Tricia Low, who was principal of Britannia Elementary School from 2017 to 2020.
The notice of claim alleges, among other things, that Rooney kept $13,289 in gift cards that had been donated for struggling families, saved cash raised through school fundraisers for herself, and booked and then cancelled school events so she could arrange for refunds to be sent to her personally.
The school board's claim alleges Rooney "intentionally engaged in the unlawful acts of conversion, theft and fraud."
Kirsten Slenning, chair of the school's parent advisory council, expressed distress about the allegations in a written statement.
"We are proud of our small, but strong school community. Many in our student body rely on the school for support in many ways, which makes these allegations all the more troubling," she said.
Rooney hung up on a reporter when asked to comment about the claims in the lawsuit. None of the allegations have been proven in court, and she has yet to file a response to the claim.
A VSB spokesperson said the claim was filed by the provincial School Protections Program on behalf of the school board. They declined to comment while the case is before the courts, but said the school district "takes these allegations very seriously."
The school board did not answer questions about whether the allegations were reported to police.
Vancouver police spokesperson Sgt. Steve Addison said he was not aware of an investigation, but likely wouldn't be able to confirm one was underway unless charges were approved.
'No explanation has ever been received'
According to the school district, approximately 200 students are enrolled at Britannia, including many who come from families struggling to pay for food and clothing, as well as a number who are in government care. About half of the student body is Indigenous.
Rooney's alleged financial misconduct first came to light in September 2019, when a routine VSB budgetary report revealed an "abnormal deficit," the claim says. At the time, Rooney allegedly claimed the deficit was because of a delay in receiving a provincial grant, but she did not provide any documentation to support that explanation.
A second budgetary report in October 2019 showed that "an abnormal amount" of reimbursement cheques had been issued directly to Rooney, according to the claim.
The VSB says it launched a formal investigation in January 2020, when it became clear Rooney was unable to explain the deficit.
That investigation uncovered allegations of wrongdoing dating back to at least December 2017, just months into Rooney's time at the school.
The claim alleges Rooney had been writing and cashing cheques made out to herself, using her school board credit card for personal purchases, trying to use the same card to pay her personal creditors, misappropriating donated gift cards, taking funds raised through events including a summer barbecue and keeping refunds from cancelled events.
It goes on to say that Rooney neglected to submit financial reports to the school "with the objective of concealing the wrongful acts," and misrepresented fundraising revenue and donations to the school for the same reason.
"No explanation has ever been received from the defendant in respect of the abnormal deficit or the wrongful acts," the claim states.
The VSB is asking for a judge to order Rooney to pay back $170,451 in allegedly misappropriated funds, along with special and punitive damages.
Rooney worked as a principal in Vancouver schools beginning in 2005 and was hired at Britannia in August 2017, according to the notice of claim. Her current occupation is unknown.