An investigation by the state auditor’s office concludes money that was supposed to be spent on the buildings and grounds of a small, southcentral Iowa school district was instead used to pay salaries and general school expenses.
In July of last year state officials ordered the Russell Community School District closed because of financial problems. Staff in the state auditor’s office haven’t conducted an official audit, but they did review the district’s accounting records.
They found $300,000 in local option sales tax revenue that was supposed to be used on construction and renovation of school buildings in the district was transferred. It was used to pay general operating expenses in the last year of the district’s existence.
Personnel files and contracts are missing and the auditor’s “special review” was unable to determine whether teachers and administrators in the district were paid according to their contracts or may have receive extra or were shorted on pay. The review was unable to determine why monthly payments to Russell superintendent Robert McCurdy and a firm run by his wife varied in the year before the school was closed.
State officials have sent notice to the Internal Revenue Service about the questions raised about the superintendent’s pay. In addition, officials in the Department of Education now must figure out what to do with just under $40,000 that sitting in an account reserved for teacher quality and mentoring. Just over 150 students were enrolled in the Russell School District in its last year of operation. State officials moved to shut it down after discovering people had been hired to teach courses for which they were not certified.