After spending Christmas in jail, Ridley School District's former payroll coordinator, Carol Ackley, might want to consider a two-part New Year's resolution.

Because if she quits gambling first, she'll find it that much easier to stop embezzling thousands of dollars to fund casino trips around the country, as police allege.

Police say Ackley, 57, has admitted to using her district position to contrive a secret banking scheme that fooled auditors for years.

Ackley, who had worked for the district since 1988, was arrested Friday after Superintendent Nicholas Ignatuk reported to Ridley police that Wachovia Bank's fraud unit had detected "unusual activity" in the district's pensioners'-hospitalization account.

An investigation found that Ackley had deposited nearly $200,000 into the dormant account since last year, then wrote checks to herself by forging a retired business manager's signature. The money came from retired employees who were reimbursing the district for health premiums paid on their behalf.

Ackley told Ridley detectives that she is an "out-of-control gambler" who has stolen "$500,000 or more" from the district since 2001, blowing it all at casinos in Atlantic City, Las Vegas and Chester, according to the police affidavit.

"She had a very clever scheme that was very well-hidden," Ignatuk said, adding that Ackley made sure the balance did not change from month to month, so the account appeared to remain dormant.

"We never expected such a thing could happen," he said. "It's a pity, and I feel sorry for her kids, but she has admitted doing this, so she's going to have to pay for it."

Ackley is the second Delaware County school-district employee charged this year with embezzling district funds and gambling them away.

The Southeast Delco School District's former assistant director of food services, Mary Arnold, 55, pleaded guilty in April to stealing $287,000 in lunch money and was sentenced to 2 1/2 to five years in state prison. Arnold said she had spent all the money at Harrah's Casino in Atlantic City.

"I don't understand addictions," she said at her July sentencing. "I don't understand why I did that."

Ackley told police that she had gambled some of the money at Harrah's Chester Casino & Racetrack, which opened in January and is only a few miles from the school district's administration building.

"Having the gambling to reduce property taxes is a good idea, but the downside is you're going to have people that are going to become addicted to gambling and find a way to keep that habit going," Ignatuk said. "Unfortunately, if you happen to be working in a job where you have access to funds, you could be tempted to steal. It's an addiction just like any addiction."

Ackley spent her Christmas at the George W. Hill Correctional Facility, in Thornton, Delaware County, after failing to post bail. Her preliminary hearing is scheduled for next month on a combined 392 counts of theft, forgery, receiving stolen property, identity theft and related offenses.