MASON CITY | At a meeting of the Mason City School Board on Monday night, board members highlighted policy changes implemented before a state audit critical of its processes and fiscal management was released last month.
That report, issued by the state auditor's office near the end of December, found some $2.2 million in improper disbursements had been made between July 1, 2009 and Aug. 31, 2017.
Additionally, the auditor's report identified a lack of board meeting minutes on pay increases and an over-reliance on electronic signatures for contracts as practices that could've fostered such disbursements. In fact, those two particular issues were singled out by investigators as reasons why they broadened the scope of a previous audit.
The meeting, a work session rather than a regular meeting, was the first time since the report was issued that members of the public had a chance to vent their frustrations at the state auditor's findings. However only one person, Katie Koehler, a teacher of 33 years, worried about the report's potential impact.
"(I) worry about attracting teachers to this district," Koehler said. "Right now, there's a mark on it, but I do think we can get past it."
In response, Mason City School Board President Jodi Draper specifically outlined policies the school board worked to put in place since the start of the investigation.
According to Draper, all meetings for school board officials are now taped and the board president personally signs all administrative contracts. Additionally, the meeting minutes are more carefully updated.
In her remarks, Draper made sure to speak to Mason City as a whole. "Each one of us lives in this community so we understand your anger."
Other board members echoed Draper's sentiments while clarifying possible misconceptions about the 78-page auditor's report.
Brent Seaton, a member elected in 2015, pointed out that no one currently sitting on the board has their name in the report and that the audit doesn't explicitly speak to whether something illegal has been done.
"[The] audit is not a partisan matter," Seaton said. "It's black and white. The audit is the audit."
Seaton also argued that the audit was a testament to the board "doing its job," an idea expressed by board member Alan Steckman as well.
Member Doug Campbell succinctly said that school staff "soldiered on" during the investigation and its aftermath.
Lorrie Lala, another member of the board, made it clear that the school board's job "ended" once the audit's findings were taken up by the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation.
Superintendent Dave Versteeg capped the testimonials by announcing that he wants to "look into Clear Lake overbilling and other sharing projects further" and correct any issues with individuals possibly being "underpaid."
The Clear Lake district paid $7,370 more than it should've in a sharing agreement with Mason City, according to the audit.