State audit finds improprieties in MPCSD lunch accounts
BY BROOKS TAYLOR
Mt. Pleasant News
A state auditor has identified a former Mt. Pleasant elementary school secretary as improperly using student’s lunch funds.
A recent special investigation of the Mt. Pleasant School District by the Iowa State Auditor’s Office identified former Harlan Elementary School Secretary Dawn Dietzenbach of distributing $5,055.80 in improper credits to student lunch accounts and $238 of undeposited collections, according to State Auditor Mary Mosiman.
Mosiman said the $5,055.80 of improper credits identified is comprised of $2,974.40 of improper transfers and $2,081.40 of improper adjustments.
The special investigation was requested by district officials due to concerns identified with certain transfers between student lunch accounts processed by Dietzenbach. The activity occurred between Aug. 8, 2012, and Nov. 14, 2016, the state auditor said in a press release. Representatives from the state office were in Mt. Pleasant Nov. 14-16, 2016, to conduct its investigation.
Mt. Pleasant Superintendent John Henriksen said the district discovered the problem on Oct. 19, 2016. “It came to our attention that day that potentially improper adjustments and transfers were being made to student lunch accounts,” he said. “There were a lot of transfers that day.”
He said the food service administrative assistant brought the matter to his attention. Transfers in the student lunch accounts reflect active accounts, Henriksen noted, while adjustments are inactive accounts. Inactive accounts are accounts of students who no longer are in school, either due to transfer or graduation, etc.
The superintendent said the Iowa Department of Education’s protocol was that when students graduated or left school and had $5 or less in their lunch account, the district didn’t have to refund the balance. Now, due to the investigation over improprieties from last year, the district is refunding the balance in inactive accounts to the student’s last known address.
Mosiman reported that of the total improper credits of $1,013.35 posted to Dietzenbach’s children’s lunch accounts, $516.35 was expended to purchase lunches for Dietzenbach’s children and $497 remained in their lunch accounts.
Henriksen met with Dietzenbach on Oct. 19, 2016, to discuss the concerns over the food service adjustments and transfers. During the meeting, the state auditor said Dietzenbach claimed the transfers entered into the lunch account system were for donations received for afternoon milk, but did not offer any further explanation for the transfers between lunch accounts. At the conclusion of the meeting with Henriksen, Dietzenbach was placed on paid administrative leave.
During their internal investigation, school officials determined there was no documentation for registration fees collected for Dietzenbach’s children for the 2016-17 school year. Although Dietzenbach was not authorized to record transactions in the district’s registration system, she was able to access the payment function, the state auditor’s office said, and record a $238 cash payment for her three children’s yearbook and registration fees for the 2016-17 school year.
The district notified the state auditor’s office on Oct. 24, 2016, of concerns identified regarding student lunch account transfers processed by Dietzenbach. “We turned it over to the state auditor’s office for their expertise, and they (auditor’s office) contacted the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) for their expertise,” Henriksen stated.
In their audit, officials with the state auditor’s office found 377 improper credits. Of the 377, 307 were posted to a specific student’s account. The student participated in the free and reduced lunch program. Therefore, there would be no payment or expense activity posted to that account.
On Oct. 19, 2016, there were 305 transfers posted to the specific student’s lunch account, totaling $3,193.50 and a transfer to another student’s account for $20. The transactions were posted after the food service administrative assistant had instructed staff not to post additional transfers without approval from food service.
Dietzenbach began working in the Harlan Elementary School office as a secretary in August 2012 and resigned from her position on Oct. 28, 2016. When Dietzenbach submitted her letter of resignation to Henriksen, she included a $300 check. In her letter she said it was never her intent to keep the funds that were put in her children’s accounts. Rather, she intended to distribute funds back to kids who needed assistance.
Several safeguards have been instituted by the school district (in addition to the aforementioned return of balances in inactive accounts) to prevent similar incidents in the future.
“The (school) secretaries can still take money for lunch accounts,” Henriksen began. “Out of convenience, we allowed secretaries in the past to credit the accounts of students in other buildings if a family paid and had children in more than one building. Now, if a family has children in multiple buildings, payment must be made to the food service administrative assistant.”
Henriksen said receipts also are being issued for all lunch payments.
The state auditor’s office also sent a copy of its report to the DCI and the Henry County Attorney’s Office.
The superintendent said the school district was not planning to file charges against Dietzenbach “at this time.” Continuing, Henriksen said he hasn’t seen the results of the criminal investigation. “The only thing we know is that the auditor’s office has completed its report,” he commented.