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North Linn school secretary kept over $26,000 from fundraisers, audit shows

State Auditor Rob Sand's office reviewed collections at North Linn Elementary School

North Linn Elementary School in Coggon, Iowa. (North Linn Community School District photo)
North Linn Elementary School in Coggon, Iowa. (North Linn Community School District photo)

A North Linn Elementary school secretary tasked with depositing money raised during book fairs, student art sales and other parent teacher organization events into a school account instead kept nearly $26,450 for her personal use, a state auditor’s report released Tuesday found.

Between December 2012 and June 2019, Auditor Rob Sand found Secretary Danielle Arnold did not deposit thousands in collections to one of two accounts she managed — a district bank account established by the parent teacher organization and a separate account funded and used by teachers for purchases related to events like Secretary’s Day.

Sand found a total of $26,621 was not deposited to the two accounts and $3,460 was improperly disbursed. For $1,825 of disbursements, it was unclear if the payment was school-related or for personal use.

Arnold resigned her position with North Linn Community School District in Coggon on June 21, 2019, a day after being placed on administrative leave. She began employment there in 2007 and had been North Linn Elementary’s secretary since 2010.

Arnold did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

In a statement Tuesday morning, North Linn Superintendent Doug Tuetken said while the funds were not taken from district accounts, the district is cooperating with the parent teacher organization, affected teachers and law enforcement in an effort to help them “seek criminal charges and restitution to recoup their missing funds from the responsible individual.”

Sand has shared his report with the Linn County Sheriff’s Office, the Division of Criminal Investigation, the Linn County Attorney’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office.

“Anyone out there who is responsible for taxpayer money should know if they misuse it we will find out about it,” Sand said. “And we will investigate it.”

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He also recommended the school’s parent teacher organization members and staff keep meeting minutes to document fundraising activities as well as establish policies governing collections.

According to the report, $26,446 went undeposited into the parent teacher organization account, including money raised during Scholastic Book Fairs and Walk-a-Thons, as well as sales of student-created art, holiday baskets and T-shirts.

About $175 was never deposited to another account run by and for teachers, who used the bank account to pool money for purchases related to special events. More than $3,000 was improperly dispersed from the teachers’ account.

Arnold, in an interview with a Linn County Sheriff’s Office detective in June 2019, “admitted using PTO funds for personal purposes,” according to the auditor’s report, and submitted a written statement that said she was worried about making her mortgage payments when she started.

“Take the cash pay the house and I would pay back, but then the amount kept getting bigger,” Arnold wrote, according to the auditor’s report. “(T)hings weren’t getting better for us financially so I thought I will pay it back next year. But I didn’t and now there is so much I don’t even know.”

School officials requested an investigation of transactions processed by Arnold after a parent teacher organization member requested an account balance and Arnold provided a number less than expected. The organization member was inquiring about the feasibility of upgrading the K-5 school’s playground equipment.

Arnold repaid $780 to the parent teacher organization, Sand’s investigation found. Recouping the rest of the money could be an issue in a criminal case or in civil court.

Charges have not been filed, according to court records. The Linn County Sheriff’s Office has concluded its investigation and forwarded all reports and evidence to the Linn County Attorney’s Office, Captain Greg McGivern said in an email Monday.

County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden did not respond to questions about pending charges Monday.

Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

 

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