School Financial Accountability

By Charles K. Trainor

On the banks of the Mississippi River, deep in the heart of apple orchard country, Minnesota’s La Crescent-Hokah School District serves hard-working, close-knit communities. Imagine the shock when authorities discovered that the district’s accounts payable clerk used her position of trust to steal $416,000 to fund a gambling habit. She had worked for the district for 37 years.

By manipulating 3,500 expenditure budget lines, altering accounting records, and committing forgery, the beloved clerk bypassed the district’s internal controls. In April, she accepted a plea deal that included one year in jail and 20 years of probation. She is expected to repay the district $292,671. Insurance may reimburse another $100,000. Taxpayers will absorb the rest.

Most people implicitly trust someone from their own town. That is especially true when dealing with venerable district employees. No one wants to think a co-worker is a thief. And the reality is that nearly all --  but not all --   are honest. When emotion replaces oversight, problems can arise. 

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