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SSD gets '09 audit results; District hopes to catch up by end of year

 

David Miller

 

STARKVILLE -- The Starkville School District's much-delayed 2009 audit is complete and the district anticipates having its 2010 and 2011 audits done by the end of the calendar year. 

 

The board reviewed results of its '09 audit Monday during a special called meeting. The results of the audit, performed by accounting firm Watkins, Ward and Stafford, yielded mainly positive news.  

 

Watkins, Ward and Stafford Audit Partner Randy Scrivner said the district's financial figures are materially correct, noting the firm didn't find any major deficiencies or compliance issues.  

 

Most of the the conversation between board members centered around the delays of the audit, some due to the delay of the '08 audit and others due to the lack of organization and communication between the board and auditing firm.  

 

The '09 audit didn't begin until August 2010, nearly 10 months off schedule. Working backwards by two years stalled the progress of the audit, as Watkins, Ward and Stafford had 122 adjusting entries dating back as far as 2006. The discrepancies between SSD Comptroller Rob Logan's books and those of '08 auditor J.E. Vance and Co. extended the '09 process by about four months. 

 

"[Watkins, Ward and Stafford] had so much back-work to do," Logan said. "And when you start going back three years, it's a tedious process. Everything's not fresh on your mind." 

 

Scrivner advised the board to reevaluate the duties it asks Logan to perform, as it ran into nontypical delays in the audit process.  

 

"We had a two week delay in the audit because Rob was installing computers in schools," Scrivner said.  

 

A lack of communication between the audit firm and the board was responsible for a four-month delay between March and June 2011, when Watkins, Ward and Stafford thought the audit was complete and submitted to the state auditor in Jackson. However, SSD was waiting on additional information from current lease and construction projects to complete the audit. 

 

To expedite future audits quicker and improve communication between the board and the audit firm, Scrivner recommended SSD form a committee to oversee audits. 

 

"Would it have solved any of this? No. This was a unique audit," Scrivner said. "But you should have been made aware of it a lot sooner." 

 

Pickett Wilson said she couldn't remember attending an audit exit conference -- like the one held Monday -- since she began serving on the board five years ago. 

 

"If we don't have an auditor sitting before us at least once a year, that's a problem," said Keith Coble, board president.  

 

In it's most significant finding, Watkins, Ward and Stafford reported 11 purchases that totaled $152,136 didn't fully comply with state purchasing laws. 

 

State purchasing laws require written quotes for purchases between $5,000 and $50,000 and written bids for purchases for more than $50,000. Additionally, all purchases must have documented requests and approval, a purchase order and documentation that the original invoice is paid.  

 

Scrivner said the firm tested close to 450 transactions, and it takes just one missing element to fall short of complying with state purchasing laws. 

 

"It could be as simple as a missing receipt, a bill or quote," Scrivner said. "We did not question whether expenditures were legit; they were. It's just that on 11 transactions, the I wasn't dotted or T wasn't crossed." 

 

Scrivner stressed the results of SSD's audit weren't damning and the process, though lengthy, wasn't any different from other audits. 

 

"Our job is to put the pieces to the puzzle," Scrivner said. "I've audited a whole lot worse. It was a lengthy process, but with the level of cooperation we had it really wasn't nerve-wracking." 

 

Wilson said she was "disappointed" in the school district's inability to closely monitor financial items on board agendas, though the minor shortfalls were paperwork errors. She called on Logan to provide greater details for financial items at future meetings and urged board members to discuss the items at meetings so it can be reflected in the meeting minutes. 

 

"We are, personally, financially responsible for $40 million," Wilson said.  

 

The board approved a motion for SSD Interim Superintendent Dr. Beth Sewell to find someone outside the district to counsel the board and administrators on the audit process. The board also approved a motion to schedule future audit exit conferences for January board meetings. 

 

Sewell said the board will address Logan's workload at its October meeting. 

 

"You always want to hear that you have not had employees embezzling, but you also don't want to have these findings," Coble said. "It is indicative that we need to do some things in the district and change some things. It may be as simple as sufficient staffing or changing some procedures. It's my sense that we don't want to let these things pile up and drag on like this has. 

 

"Let's get all this cleaned up so when we get a new superintendent in here they start with everything financially impeccable."

 

 

 

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