By COLLEEN MCCARTHY
During a special meeting Monday, members of the Starkville School District Board of Trustees vowed to clean up the district’s financial records and processes before a new superintendent takes office.
The board met in a special meeting yesterday to conduct an exit conference with a representative from the accounting firm Watkins, Ward and Stafford regarding the 2009 fiscal year audit — a conference that ideally should have been handled several years ago.
In normal circumstances, an audit would take place within a the first few months of the close of a fiscal year. However, the 2008 audit was delayed, which caused the 2009 audit to be delayed as well.
When Watkins, Ward and Stafford started on the 2009 audit, it had trouble getting information from the firm that handled the 2008 audit. By the time the firm got the information it needed, it was years old.
“This audit firm is telling us that they had to do a lot of clean up to get started; I think that’s really where this all started,” board President Keith Coble said.
During the report, the auditor noted several issues within the 2009 audit. The first was 11 purchases totaling $152,136 that did not comply with state purchasing law. Though all the purchases were legitimate expenditures, the auditor said, the paperwork for those purchases was not in order for one reason or another.
In the report, the auditing firm said: “We recommend that the district comply with applicable state statutes in this area by maintaining documentation to support purchases, are put out for competitive bid, purchased under state contract or purchased at a price equal to or less than state contract.”
The audit also noted that in its sample of 12 rehires of retired employees, only one-third complied with the filing of the Mississippi Public Employees Retirement System’s Form 4B within five days of being rehired, as required by law. Only half of the sample were in compliance with the requirement that the retiree not be paid more than allowed by law.
The third and final issue said the SSD is required to compile a list of children enrolled and residing in the school district so it could divide 16th section funds between itself and the Oktibbeha County School District. The auditor noted that the districts already have an agreement regarding the funds, and it wasn’t a big issue, but rather one he had tried to get the state auditor’s office to allow him to take out.
Though the audit did not reveal any major issues, Coble said the district needs to have a spotless financial record from now on.
“I think you always want to hear that you don’t have employees embezzling, but you also don’t want to have these findings,” he said. “I think it is indicative that we need to do some things in the district and change the way we do some things in the district. It may be as simple as sufficient staffing or changing some precedures, but I think, it’s the sense that we want to not let these things pile up and drag on, as this has. What we want to do, is for the next superintendent, let’s get all this cleaned up so when we get a new superintendent in here, they start with everything financially is impeccable.”
Board member Pickett Wilson said that in her five years on the board, she could not recall ever having an exit conference to discuss yearly audits.
“If we don’t have an auditor sitting before us once a year, there’s a problem,” Coble said. “This was a mistake of the past, an egregious one.”
Wilson said that she was going to pay extra attention to financial items on the monthly agendas from now on and made the motion that the board receive training from a professional accountant on financial issues.
“We have to be, to me, more accountable than anybody,” she said.
The auditor made recommended that the board reevaluate all the responsibilities that comptroller Rob Logan has taken on. Logan admitted that due to understaffing, he was “wearing too many hats” and it may have contributed to the audit’s delays.
The auditor also recommended that the district work on communication during following audits- citing that the communication between the firm, board and superintendent was one of the reasons the board didn’t find out about the audit issues until now.
A new firm, Fortenberry and Ballard, will handle the 2010 and 2011 fiscal year audits and Watkins, Ward and Stafford has already begun working with them to ensure the process will go much more smoothly.
“They gave us some hope that we can get the 2010 audit done quickly and so we can get things back on the right timeline,” Coble said. “I feel like this is a step in the right direction. We had a very productive discussion about where we want things to be.”
The board already scheduled an exit conference in January for both audits.
The 2009 fiscal year audit report for the district is available for the public to view on the Mississippi Office of the State Auditor’s website.