State auditors find concerns when examining Sunnyside School District financial books

A Washington State audit of the Sunnyside School District, which highlighted three areas of concern, has led to a series of school district reimbursement policy changes.

While the district maintains it was following its policies for reimbursement and documentation of school district funds, the state auditors felt more detail is required in a number of areas, said Dr. Rick Cole, Sunnyside School District Superintendent.

The Sunnyside School Board reviewed the audit with state auditors this past September and implemented policy changes in November to comply with the state auditor's findings, said Cole.

According to an auditor's report, released April 8, state auditors found three findings in the district's general fund. The auditors, in examining district funds covering the period of time from Sept. 1, 2001 through Aug. 31, 2003, questioned the district's use of public money for Sunnyside's Promise, the use of credit cards without proper documentation and the district's travel reimbursement procedures.

The auditors claimed the district had inadequate controls over travel expenditures, which resulted in their questioning 17 travel vouchers during the two-year period, totaling $2,222.91. The auditors also noted 26 other expenditures, each under $25, totaling $330.

The auditors noted a lack of proper documentation, such as the details of the purpose of the expense, who partook of meals, and a lack of itemized receipts and questionable meal reimbursements.

The auditors also noted meal reimbursements that were not properly calculated based on actual expenditures. Due to the overall lack of support, in most cases auditors could not determine if the expenditures were legal or allowable.

But according to Cole, the district was able to provide explanation for the issues outlined in the audit and provided the auditors with the necessary support of the expenditures.

"We have reviewed the auditor's concerns and the school board has already implemented appropriate changes to district policies to strengthen the documentation of district expenditures," Cole said.

While no money was found to be missing, the auditors felt the district should do a better job of documenting use of the district's credit card for travel expenditures as well.

Cole explained it has been district practice to reimburse employees who conduct business in and outside of the district using the district's single credit card, which was issued to the superintendent. Cole said he felt some of the confusion regarding the district expenditures may have been a result of the card being issued to the superintendent.

"We have since issued one card to be issued for the Sunnyside School District use only. I now have my own credit card to avoid confusion regarding expenditures, plus we have implemented a more detailed expenditures policy," Cole added.

He said administrators felt they had been documenting expenditures according to district policy, but in order to reduce future confusion, the school board in November changed district policy to comply with the auditors' concerns.

Cole said the issue regarding the board's approval of a payment to the Sunnyside's Promise group was initially written as a partnership. Since the audit, the board has written a contract, which details exactly what services Sunnyside's Promise is providing to the district, Cole explained.

The auditors, who met with the Sunnyside School Board in September, said they will review the steps taken by the district during the district's next accountability audit.

Cole said as part of the district tightening its policies regarding documentation, the district will now be doing its own internal audit of budgets to further reduce questions concerning itemization of expenditures.

"We take these questions seriously and have responded promptly to change our policies to comply," said Cole.

"I'm just glad the audit is over," he added.


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