High School Principal Jimmy Casas fired a warning shot across Bettendorf's bow.

In a cease-and-desist notification issued a year ago by his attorney, Casas accused school district finance director Maxine McEnany and two school board members of "spreading false, destructive and defamatory rumors about him."

The letter to McEnany concluded, "... our hope is that your conduct moving forward will represent your school district and its administration in a positive, responsible and ethical manner."

That hope was mutual.

McEnany had been pushing by then for more than two years for district leaders to take a closer look at the principal's conduct, suspecting a conflict of interest or worse.

"My job was threatened," McEnany said of the consequences of sharing her concerns. "They harassed me every single day.

"What I said was the truth, so it's not slander. I can't bury my head. I've got to do my job."

Much has been made of the recent re-audit of the district by the state, which focused primarily on 2013-14. The results of the inquiry referred to "certain employees" receiving hotel rewards when on school business, using a district credit card.

Big whoop, right?

But there was more to it.

Although he originally declined to answer questions about the misdirected rewards points, Casas opened up Friday afternoon. He is sick to death of talking about it, he said, having already told the story repeatedly, including to the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners.

He acknowledges that he and other administrators were told in 2012 they could not personally accept hotel rewards while traveling on district business.

At first, he complied. But the temptation was great.

"I'd tell them (at hotel checkout) that I didn't want the points," Casas said. "I'd have to argue with them."

He's not sure when, exactly, but he eventually decided to quietly break the rules. He declined the points at the hotel but later called Marriott Rewards, for example, to collect on the sly.

"Obviously, I deserved to be reprimanded," he said. "I did that. I admitted that. They (examiners) took into account I've been a good principal.

"I made a mistake. It didn't cost the district anything, because they can't accept points. It was wrong. I shouldn't have done it. I will never, ever do anything wrong again."

Although he initially denied his wrongdoing, records surfaced, and Casas came clean. Now, he'd like to put it behind him.

McEnany shared other concerns with the state auditors.

One issue centered on district spending on food and other items for out-of-town visitors that she said had no business with the district. On at least two occasions, Casas was paid to speak in the same out-of-state districts that sent employees to Bettendorf.

For example, the district paid a modest amount, $162.36, to feed visitors from Katy, Texas, in November 2014. In February 2015, Casas was paid $3,350.30 by the Katy district for "contracted services." In August 2015, he was paid another $6,336.87 by Katy, according to that district's records, which also were supplied to the auditor in Iowa.

Asked about the arrangement with Katy, Casas said Bettendorf High School frequently hosts visits by other schools as a mutual learning opportunity. Asked how it happened that he then was paid nearly $10,000 by Katy and whether the arrangement had been a form of personal networking, Casas said he already had a contract to speak in Katy before employees from the district visited Bettendorf.

The Texas speaking engagement was one of 31 speaking engagements by Casas in 2014-15. His salary and benefits with Bettendorf total $181,738.

In addition to being a presenter or keynote speaker in Texas, California, South Dakota, Georgia, Florida, Nevada and throughout the Midwest, Casas is a Drake University professor, book author, blogger, chat moderator, honorary board member for a for-profit company and is credited with being co-founder of at least two education-related organizations, EdCampIowa and C64kid.

A co-founder of the for-profit C64Kid, Joe Mazza, was paid $2,000 by Bettendorf for an early 2015 training session at the school, according to an invoice supplied for the audit.

Asked whether it is ethical to bring friends and business partners to the district as paid speakers, Casas said he is familiar with "almost everyone" who speaks in the district, adding he has a "tremendous network of colleagues." He said Mazza is not a business partner and never has been.

"He reached out to me for ideas on a business model and then asked if I would be willing to be a speaker for him," Casas wrote in an email. "I agreed. Again, I have no ownership nor is my name listed on the C64Kid LLC."

He is listed on the company website as a member of its "founding team," but Casas said his name frequently is used because of its positive recognition.

And two final matters:

First, Casas' blog, including an advertisement for his book and his "appearance schedule" are linked from the Bettendorf High School website. He said his blog is not linked, writing, "Our staff blog is though."

On Friday, he acknowledged the link, saying no one has questioned it, adding, "If they had, I would have removed it."

Lastly, I asked the principal whether he has been using the district's Wi-Fi hotspot for his personal ventures. District records show Casas used 365 gigabytes from July 2015 to this past month. In the same time period, Superintendent Theron Schutte used 39 gig.

Replied Casas: "Our school hotspot is used daily (and through the evening), including weekend events, by all administrators to provide wifi access to all events. All of us are invested in our work and are expected to be available 24/7 for our school community."

The question of whether he used the school's technology for private purposes remains unanswered, in other words.

By all unfortunate appearances, the relationship between the high school principal and the district bean counter is strained at best. McEnany says it isn't personal.

"I don't care if he makes a million dollars (as a speaker/author)," she said. "He can't do it on taxpayers' money. I want the district to be reimbursed for travel expenses when he was speaker and for all the rewards he took.

"I'm not trying to get him in trouble. I want to get it corrected."

Meanwhile, Casas said he feels like he's had a target on his back, and McEnany put it there. In that regard, he said, it has been personal.

"I believe that our director of finance pointed out only me to the auditor," he said. "Some of what she said were total lies. That's worse than what I was doing."

He said, she said.

Meanwhile, parents have been left to guess what's been going on in closed-door meetings and trying to read between the lines of a state audit that, frankly, isn't all that interesting.

You expect this sort of pettiness at a high school, but it typically comes from the students.

It's time to expel the pettiness and go back to the business of running a popular, well-regarded and successful school district.

Dismissed.

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Contact Barb Ickes at 563-383-2316 or bickes@qctimes.com.

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