The state auditor's office has admonished the Shakopee school district for failing to hold its former superintendent accountable for breaking credit card rules and failing to foster an environment where employees feel safe reporting misconduct.
The state auditor's report, released last week, is the latest chapter in a multiyear saga involving the school district and former superintendent Rod Thompson.
In November, Thompson pleaded guilty to 19 felonies for swindling tens of thousands of dollars via unfettered use of a school-issued credit card.
Now the state auditor's office has offered its own analysis, providing a detailed breakdown of the $85,000 in problematic purchases by Thompson that it unearthed in the nearly seven years that he led the district. They included sports memorabilia, first-class airfare and an Xbox gaming system.
The report, submitted by Special Investigations Director Mark Kerr, highlights three areas of concern related to the school board's actions and recommends changes the district should make:
• The school board should review the way it supervises the superintendent and establish policies to ensure he or she is following the rules. The report found the board didn't make Thompson follow its own written rules for school-issued credit cards — no personal purchases allowed and approval of submitted receipts.
• The school board should "critically review and formally approve transactions that it has committed itself to oversee." The report found that the board allowed Thompson to receive nearly $48,000 in payments toward adoption of a child without using a process to approve eligible expenses, resulting in additional costs to the district.
• The school district should make employees feel comfortable reporting breaches without fearing a backlash and with confidence that their concerns will be addressed. The report said the school board didn't "create a control environment" that encouraged accountability.
The school board is required to write a response to the state auditor's report by March 1. But district leaders said Thursday that the changes suggested were already in place.
"The recommendations they're making, in our case, are really after the fact," Superintendent Mike Redmond said. "It's how we operate, it's what we're doing."
The district updated its purchasing card manual in 2017 and again in 2018, said Ashley McCray, a district spokeswoman. The manual makes it clear that items are not to be shipped to cardholders' homes, and establishes nonnegotiable deadlines to hand in receipts.
In addition, purchases are never to be approved by employees themselves or by someone they oversee, McCray said in an e-mail.
Redmond, who became superintendent last fall after Superintendent Gary Anger died in August, said he's chosen not to have a school-issued credit card because he doesn't need one. Instead, his expenses go through an approval process after they are made.
He said the district is unlikely to make any additional policy changes following the state auditor's report. "I feel that we are in very, very good shape," he said.
The continued focus on Thompson's mistakes can distract from the district's real job, which is "supporting student learning," Redmond said. But the "good news is that it gives us a chance to talk about the great things that we're doing."
Thompson is scheduled to be sentenced on May 3.