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Mason City School Board

Mason City Community School District Board of Education member Lorrie Lala speaks during an April special session.

The Mason City School Board took another step this week to addressing a special audit by the state looking into the district's financial practices over an eight-year period.

At its meeting on Wednesday, the board approved an agreement not to sue the district for employees found to have been underpaid by the special investigators. 

The board made the decision earlier this month to rectify past underpayments to eight administrative officials who special investigators auditing the district found were underpaid in total by $24,182.99.

In the document, the district "denies any wrongdoing and any and all liability and this document is not an admission of any kind."

It also asks that employees agree not request or cause any governmental agency to investigate or bring action against the district, or its affiliates, as it relates to the issue of underpayments.

According to Mason City Community School District Superintendent Dave Versteeg, the general purpose of the agreement is that the payee releases the district from "all claims, demands and causes of actions."

"In other words," Versteeg said, "if you accept this money, you can't sue the district for matters related to the payment."

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That move to approve the release agreement effectively brings to an end one of the prongs of the state's special audit into the district's financial practices spanning an eight-year period.

In addition to the finding that certain employees were underpaid, the state audit also pinpointed some $2.2 million in "improper disbursements" that occurred as a result of internal controls and district procedures at the time.

Most of that occurred during Anita Micich's time as superintendent. The audit concluded that Micich was paid $473,978 in improper salary and benefits during the eight years in question.

Micich vacated her position in May 2016.

At the time, one of the reasons cited for Micich's ouster was her alleged "insubordination" over how she handled an exchange program for Chinese students.

At the board's April 1 meeting, School Board President Jodi Draper said that although these employees did agree to contracts that underpaid them, those decisions might have been unduly influenced.

"The climate that was here was that if they didn't agree, there could be consequences," Draper said.

Versteeg informed the current board that past boards "weren't clear if raises were 3 percent across the board or 3 percent of (a set) dollar amount" and that's where the underpayments came into play.

Board member Scott Warren took issue with that position and argued that "all of us have signed contracts that we didn't agree with."

Warren came out against repaying these employees while also worrying that going back and changing what a previous board had done would "open up a whole can of worms."

The matter of the improper disbursements can still be closed. 

Earlier this month, Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Michael Krapfl confirmed that the case is still with the DCI.

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