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Ex-school employee accused of changing grades

Suspect also charged with theft for misuse of district credit card

A former employee of the Colby School District has been accused of improperly changing her daughter’s grades in an apparent attempt to earn more scholarship money at the college of her choice.

Lisa Steen, 44, of Dorchester has also been accused of charging over $7,000 in personal expenses on a district credit card. She had served as the district’s accounts payable secretary and student information system coordinator before she was fired in February.

A criminal complaint filed Dec. 19 in Clark County Circuit Court contains six felony charges, including identity theft, theft of over $5,000 in a business setting, illegally modifying computer data, misconduct in office and two counts of misappropriation of identification information to obtain money.

If convicted of identity theft or the monetary theft charge, Steen faces up to six years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000, according to sentencing guidelines for Class H felonies.

Steen is scheduled to have her initial appearance at the courthouse in Neillsville on Jan. 14. Bail will be set at that hearing.

According to a report from the Colby-Abbotsford Police Department, Steen used the district’s computer software system, Infinite Campus, to alter her daughter’s letter grades on three separate occasions in 2018. She logged in under a different staff member’s username two of these times.

In each instance, she raised the grade one half-step — from a C+ to a B, for ex- ample. Changes were made to six different classes going back three school years to 2015-2016.

As a result of these changes, her daughter’s unweighted grade-point average went over 3.5, which allowed her to qualify for more scholarship money at the college she applied to.

Superintendent Steve Kolden contacted the college in question and found out that a GPA of 3.5 or more qualifies students for $1,000 to $2,000 more in scholarships.

Kolden told police that the higher GPA could have also qualified her for other scholarships she might not have otherwise been eligible for.

“The totality of the potential scholarships is unknown,” the report states.

When confronted with these allegations in a March 12 interview at the police department, Steen said she made the changes in a “test environment” that should not have affected her daughter’s final transcript.

Steen told the officer that she was simply trying to see if another employee had the proper access to the software.

The officer told her that her changes had raised her daughter’s class rank by one, but she claimed that was not intentional. The officer also questioned why she would need to sign in on separate occasions, including once under her own name, to “test” the access capability of her co-worker.

“Lisa said she did intentionally change any grade,” the report said. She said doing so would only hurt her daughter, but the investigator said only if someone found out about it.

The alleged grade tampering was discovered when her replacement was being trained into the job.

Steen was initially put on unpaid leave and then terminated after an audit identifi ed 35 credit card transactions made for “personal purposes” between February of 2018 and Jan. 11 of this year.

District administrators discovered the suspicious transactions on Jan. 17 and immediately contacted the auditing firm, Johnson Block, to review the charges.

“The district immediately initiated an internal investigation and contacted the Colby-Abbotsford Police Department,” the statement reads. “That afternoon, the district had confirmed at least three credit transactions for personal use.”

Several of the charges were for items ordered on Amazon, and others were for paying her electrical, cell phone and cable bills, according to a report from the Colby-Abbotsford Police Department. One of the charges was $300 to a college attended by her daughter.

The charges were made on two different cards, one from Royal Credit Union and the other from Walmart.

According to the police report, the suspect would cover her purchases by incorrectly coding them in the system.

“The charges would then be approved by the Colby School Board as it appeared to be for something other than what it was,” the report states. “This allowed (the suspect) to hide her erroneous charges...”

In one example, the suspect ordered a mixer from Amazon on Oct. 4, 2018, but coded it as “supplies,” with a description of “envelopes, batteries and folders.”

In another example, she used the district’s card to pay electrical bill for a recreational property in Taylor County. She told another district employee that the bill was for solar panels for the FFA.

Steen also allegedly purchased a pair of glasses using the district’s credit card and turned in the receipt for an account used to reimburse medical expenses.

When questioned by police, the suspect said she had reimbursed the district for at least some of the purchases and planned on paying the rest of it back, but there is no record of reimbursements.

The report from Johnson Block said the credit card charges “circumvented the district’s normal purchasing process” and were not subsequently reimbursed to the district. The suspect told police she started using the district’s credit card to cover her own expenses because of “financial trouble at home.” She mentioned being $600 behind on a Verizon bill and noted that she was paying five cell phone lines.

She also admitted to using the district credit card to buy a laptop computer for her daughter.