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Former Minn. school official charged, accused of paying herself too much overtime, falsifying records

GREENBUSH, Minn. - A former business manager for the Greenbush Middle River School District had been paying herself and other staff too much overtime and falsifying records to cover it up, according to the Roseau County Sheriff’s Department.

Arlys Strandberg, 59, was charged early last month with two counts of misconduct of a public officer or employee. Each count is a misdemeanor and carries a penalty of one year in prison and/or a $3,000 fine.

She’s scheduled to make a first court appearance at the Roseau County Courthouse on May 5.

Strandberg was fired after school administrators noticed overtime discrepancies stemming from two falsified financial reports in 2012 and 2013. She allegedly told School Board members she didn’t want the superintendent to see how much overtime she was being paid, according the Sheriff’s Department’s statement of probable cause.

The department started to investigate a possible theft of public funds in August 2013.

Superintendent Tom Jerome did not respond to a call for comment. School Board members either did not respond or directed inquiries to Jerome.

An admission

During contract negotiations with non-certified staff in 2012, the School Board noticed the district appeared to be paying “a large amount” of overtime to employees and requested a report be run to show how much was paid to each, according to the Sheriff’s Department.

Strandberg, who conducted all of the financial business of the school district, was tasked with the request. After several reviews of her reports, district officials noticed they had been altered twice, in October 2012 and in April 2013.

She was put on administrative leave soon after and, during a meeting with Jerome and other School Board members, she admitted to falsifying records but said she wasn’t stealing from the district, according to the Sheriff’s Department.

School administrators paid for a forensic audit, which concluded Strandberg was paying herself overtime contrary to the Minnesota Fair Labor Standards Act. They also concluded that other employees not eligible for overtime were overpaid as well.

“Administration had a difficult time budgeting payroll due to altered documents and because expenses were reported in the wrong account,” the forensic audit said.

Making changes

By the time the district’s regular annual audit was released in June, the district had hired a new business manager.

Moving forward, the superintendent is required to review payroll to make sure overtime was properly approved and earned, according to audit recommendations.

As the district lacked the staff to appropriately handle all of the accounting duties, the audit also recommends the superintendent review every financial entry and periodically review bank statements. Additional training for district personnel will also be required to help them better understand financial statements.

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