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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.

MASON CITY | The Mason City Community School District Board of Education decided Monday night to repay the Clear Lake School District, rectify past underpayments to administrative officials and pay back the state for an audit.

That move comes more than three months after the state auditor's special investigation identified more than $2.2 million in "improper disbursements" had been handed out from 2009 to 2017.

Most of that occurred during Anita Micich's time as superintendent. Micich, who took in some $473,978 in improper salary and benefits from the period covered by the audit, 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.

During her tenure, Micich managed both the Mason City and Clear Lake districts from 2010 to 2016 as part of a sharing agreement.

Under said agreement, Micich’s salary and benefits were to be paid by Mason City in total and Clear Lake was to reimburse Mason City for 40 percent of the total.

In the 78-page audit from December 2018, which was asked for by school district officials, state investigators said the Mason City district had "overbilled" the Clear Lake district by $7,370.

But Clear Lake Superintendent Doug Gee worried during a January meeting that the amount might've been even higher.

The Mason City School Board unanimously chose to reimburse Clear Lake but for $6,101.10 rather than the $7,370 listed in the state audit.

According to Superintendent Dave Versteeg, that number was agreed upon by both parties and the thousand-dollar discrepancy is the result of a difference in calculations between the district and special investigators.

At the same time, the school board also agreed to repay eight district employees that special investigators found were underpaid in total by $24,182.99.

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."

Versteeg built on that point and 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."

Brent Seaton, another school board member, acknowledged that he had a problem as well with changing what a previous board had done but ultimately decided to vote in favor of repaying the district employees.

Seaton was joined in his vote to repay by Draper, Jacob Schweitzer, Alan Steckman and School Board Vice President Doug Campbell. Board members Lorrie Lala and Warren voted against repaying.

In reaching his decision, Campbell said that he wanted to "disregard everything from the past and go forward in good faith."

"It's a small recompense for what has transpired," Campbell argued.

That rationale also applied to the board's final decision of the evening: repaying the state auditor's office for the special investigation to the tune of $19,985.87

While there was near-unanimous consent on this point (with Warren not audibly voting), Lala aired out her frustrations with the entire process and didn't see what good any of it had been.

"We got stuck with a giant mess," Lala said. "I can't see any positive to self-reporting. I don't think other schools will follow suit."

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