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Sheila Accornero, former business manager of Kid Street Learning Center in Santa Rosa, kept a "shadow" book of accounts that fooled school officials and auditors while she skimmed nearly $400,000, principal Linda Conklin alleged Monday.

"That's what Sheila was doing; she had a whole second set of books," Conklin said between greetings to parents and new students beginning the school year Monday at the charter school.

Accornero, 42, is in jail accused of forging Conklin's signature on charter school checks totaling $396,633.87 that she allegedly wrote to herself. The scheme went undetected for more than 2? years until someone at Accornero's credit union became suspicious of her account activity and alerted authorities, Conklin said.

Robin McKenzie, a senior vice president of Redwood Credit Union in Santa Rosa, would not confirm the credit union's role in uncovering the suspected embezzlement. "We're not able to comment on individual situations or member accounts," she said.

Annual independent audits, school district reviews and the school's bank didn't reveal that hundreds of checks of $1,000 or less being written to Accornero were potentially fraudulent. Audits, required by state law, don't look at every financial transaction of a school, district officials said.

Accornero is to be arraigned Aug. 22 when she'll also have a bail hearing, said attorney Steve Weiss, who said he expects to be retained in the case as Accornero's attorney.

Christine Cook, assistant district attorney, declined to discuss the case Monday.

Accornero, a Cloverdale resident, faces felony embezzlement and forgery charges. Santa Rosa police said a prescription drug habit fueled the alleged crimes.

The financial cloud hanging over the charter school wasn't visible on campus Monday as excited students with backpacks rushed up the steps for their first day of the school year. Teachers, students and parents greeted each other with hugs, words of welcome and big smiles.

But standing outside the Davis Street school the adults also spoke of the embezzlement allegations, expressing support for the unique school of 48 students, and in some cases for Accornero.

"(We're) a family and that's what saddens us here about Sheila. She was part of our family and we cared about her," said Conklin.

"I don't mean to sound like money doesn't matter but money isn't more important than people," Conklin said.

Jim Korte of Healdsburg, who dropped off four of his daughters Monday morning at Kid Street, said he was thunderstruck at the news of Accornero's arrest.

"It blew me away. Everybody was just blown away," said Korte. "She was great with the kids."

Accornero, 42, had worked as the charter school's business manager since 2005.

He said it was a shock to think that Accornero was in jail, noting that his wife spoke with her last week about school.

"It's an awesome school," he said. "It's not the school's fault."

Kid Street is a charter school with the Santa Rosa City School District. It has 48 students this fall and serves at-risk children in grades 1-6.

The school's annual budget is about $620,000.

Conklin said she still wasn't aware of all of the details of the how the money was taken or from which accounts and whether the school might be financially affected.

She said she expects that insurance would cover most of the loss. Supporters and parents already have brought up fund-raising ideas, Conklin said.

Parent Melissa Merel of Rohnert Park dropped off her three children Monday morning.

"It's unfortunate. We're disappointed," Merel said. "But I love the school. Wonderful things happen here."

Conklin and teacher Erin Fightmaster said the annual first-day meeting with students would include discussion of what happened with the woman they all called "Sheila."

They expected the children would bring it up during question time.

If a child asks if Sheila took money from the school and was arrested, Conklin said she'd tell them the truth.

"And I'm going to say, &‘Isn't that sad?'"