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State auditors office posts two findings against Sunnyside School District

A recent state audit of the Sunnyside School District's books noted two findings against the district.

In the first finding, auditors reported the school district did not have adequate internal controls to ensure compliance with child nutrition verification requirements.

According to the audit report, child nutrition programs are designed to assist states and schools in providing healthy and nutritious meals to eligible children. Depending on family income, students can qualify to receive meals for free or at a reduced price. School districts report the number of meals served and are reimbursed by the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). Sunnyside School District received $2,096,553 from this program in fiscal year 2006.

The district is required to verify family income by Nov. 15 of each year. They do this by focus sampling and select 3 percent of the applications and ask for verification from the families. If a family doesn't respond completely by the deadline, the district is required to remove the student from the program.

The audit reported 2,056 applications were filed on Oct. 1, 2005, but since the documentation wasn't retained by the district's nutrition software system supporting these applications, auditors were unable to verify this as an accurate count.

Sixty-two applications were selected by the district to be verified but only 52 actually were. The remaining 10 applications were for direct certification or migrant application and should have been excluded from the pool of applications to be selected. The state auditor's office reported the district was unaware of this discrepancy.

The audit also shows that income verification documentation was received late by the district.

Angela Watts, business manager for the Sunnyside School District, said the district is getting everything in compliance with state and federal requirements.

"We just didn't follow all of the timelines," she said.

As far as the number of applications verified, she said the school district is now selecting more than 3 percent to cover any discrepancies. Also, she said, this year the school district will be getting the applications verified well before the Nov. 15 deadline.

The state auditor's communications director, Mindy Chambers, said the findings aren't saying the school district didn't comply with state and federal regulations, just that the district couldn't provide documentation verifying it did.

The audit also found the Sunnyside School District didn't comply with federal requirements for the Title I program.

This program is designed to improve the teaching and learning of children who are at risk of not meeting challenging academic standards and who reside in areas with high concentrations of children from low-income families.

School districts that fail to make adequate yearly progress as defined by the OSPI are classified as needing improvement. This status requires a district to set aside a portion of its Title I funds for areas such as employee development and supplemental student services. The school district is also required to notify families about the opportunity to transfer their student to another school within the district that is making adequate yearly progress.

The district spent a total of $291,780 (approximately 10 percent of its Title I grant allocation) on professional development activities through its primary Title I grant. But the district cold not specify what professional development costs were for district-wide staff development or the costs for the development of specific employees who had not achieved highly qualified status. Since these costs were not specifically tracked for each requirement, the district could not provide evidence that they complied with either of these requirements.

To fix this, Watts said the district has set up an accounting code structure to properly monitor the accounts set aside to meet these requirements.

Auditors also reported the district could not provide documentation showing it notified families with children at Outlook Elementary School of the option of transportation to a school meeting adequate yearly progress.

Watts said she wasn't at the school district then, but to her understanding parents were notified.

Another snag the district hit was in its methods for obtaining contracts to provide professional development services. With programs under $100,000, the district must get at least three different quotes from contractors or show that the services could be obtained from only one vendor. The state auditor's office reported the district was unaware of this.

Watts said the district now has a document that states why they would only pick one source.

This stemmed from a contract the district entered into with Central Washington University to provide professional development services. Watts said the district argued that CWU was the only provider who could offer the services needed.

Because the district did not retain records supporting the selection of the contractor, audit officials could not verify the district obtained the best services for the most competitive price.

Watts said the school district is doing its best to comply and develop the proper procedures. She said it was frustrating to have findings against the district, but said the district will follow all of the rules and regulations.

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