Lunch for 200 people at the Space Needle and a dinner train ride for 225 people are two of eight incidents included in a finding by state auditors regarding the Sunnyside School District's bookkeeping.
A total of $115,000 in expenditures are included in the findings and all were with state monies for state authorized conferences related to migrant student programs.
Sunnyside Superintendent Dr. Rick Cole explained that the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) passed the funds through the school district for national and international conferences on migrant student learning which were held in the Seattle area, as well as eastern Washington.
State auditors took the district to task for seeking OSPI approval without also determining whether the costs were allowable under audit guidelines.
Cole said the audit findings are a directive to the district to "get your controls in order."
At the same time, he pointed out that all of the expenditures were approved by OSPI, organized by OSPI and funded by OSPI dollars administered through the district.
Lionel Campos is the director of migrant student data and recruitment for the school district. He confirmed that the money was from and for state programs.
"It wasn't school district staff that attended these events," Campos said of the conferences, which are held for migrant state directors throughout the U.S. and which also have representatives from Mexico in attendance.
In response to the audit finding, Cole said the district will improve procedures in making sure adequate controls are in place regarding administration of the state funds.
In addition, the district will work with OSPI to make sure Sunnyside can sign off on contracts the state office inks since the auditor's office is taking the district to task for those contracts..
Cole noted, for example, that OSPI signed a contract with a hotel in the Seattle area in anticipation of a large turnout for an OSPI conference. When most of the attendees canceled, Cole said the state was still held responsible for paying for the empty rooms because of its contract with the hotel.
Even though it was state money, state program and a state contract with the hotel, Cole said Sunnyside got hit with the audit finding because of the fact the money passed through the school district.
It marks the second time in recent years the State Auditor's office had a finding against the Sunnyside School District. Cole confirmed the previous one entailed travel issues. "We have since updated our travel codes," Cole said of the district's response to the earlier finding.