A state audit concludes there was almost $80,000 in improper spending in a nonprofit organization mostly bankrolled by federal funds but monitored by the Iowa Department of Education.

“Iowa Skills” is to help students prepare for careers in trades, like construction, or in technical careers, like computer repair. The students pay dues to the nonprofit and registration fees to attend conventions, plus some state tax dollars are funneled to the organization.

State Auditor Dave Vaudt says it appears Diane Klenk-Chargo — the former state director of “Iowa Skills” — abused her position. The auditor’s review covered a nearly seven year period. The audit found Klenk-Chargo received almost $30,000 in excess salary and rent.

“She’s located in Tama, Iowa, and operated the Skills organization through her home,” Vaudt says, “so she was supposed to receive a monthly stipend of $300 a month for her services and $300 for rent.”

Vaudt says she paid herself more than that, plus the audit found another $5000 in payments were made to pay off her personal credit card bill for things unrelated to the program and, in addition, the director’s husband was improperly paid at least a thousand dollars. There were no documents available to determine whether another $25,000 was spent on personal or business purposes. Vaudt says they tried to track cash advances made on a credit card, for example, but it was a difficult audit because of the lack of record-keeping.

“There was probably not a good oversight function in place because records weren’t being maintained, so nobody was seeing the fact that the Klenk-Chargos were actually in charge of everything and actually kept very poor records,” Vaudt says.

Vaudt’s 2006 audit of a central Iowa agency that got federal funds to provide help to the unemployed sparked outrage when it disclosed the program’s administrators received lavish salaries. While the 2006 audit of the “Central Iowa Employment and Training Consortium” began after a whistleblower came forward, Vaudt says this audit was requested by the Iowa Department of Education, the agency that oversees the “Iowa Skills” program.

“Obviously it’s another case where organizations that are small need lots of oversight by boards of directors and others,” Vaudt says. “And in this case, that oversight wasn’t there.”

A 15-member board is to oversee “Iowa Skills” but it met only once a year. A Department of Education official was to cosign checks, but the audit found Klenk-Chargo’s signature, alone, on most of the checks written on the “Iowa Skills” account. Klenk-Chargo resigned last summer and she told auditors her husband — an unpaid volunteer — ran the financial side of the operation.