Columbia Public Schools audit shows one mistake

Friday, December 14, 2012 | 11:39 a.m. CST; updated 7:19 p.m. CST, Saturday, December 15, 2012

COLUMBIA — In an incident in June, a mistake was made with the finances of Columbia Public Schools.

At the Dec. 10 meeting of the Columbia School Board, James McGinnis, partner at the accounting firm Gerding, Korte and Chitwood, presented the year-end audit to board members and district administrators. The audit found a single mistake.

The audit showed that a supervisor in the Title 1 Department, who had been on the job for only about four months, requested more money than the district had used, Linda Quinley, the district's chief financial officer, said.

Federal law states that when school districts request funding, they have three days to spend those funds after receiving them, which is hard to do, Quinley said.

To make sure it is compliant with this federal law, the district spends the money and then requests it, she said.

In this case, the supervisor requested more than the district actually spent. The amount was $427,709. The district sent the money back to the government, Quinley said.

Because the amount requested and the amount spent didn't match, it triggered the audit finding. This finding does not cost the district anything, Quinley said.

If the mistake had been made with state funding instead, there would have been no finding, she said.

The mistake happened because the supervisor was new to the position and this was the first time she had requested federal funds, Quinley said.

"There's nothing really easy about working with the federal system," she said.

The supervisor was trained on how to use the funding request system, but the person who did it for many years before the supervisor arrived had been gone for a while by the time the supervisor was in that position, Quinley said.

"We had a few months with no one actually in that role, so there was no good on-the-job training," she said.

It's something you can learn from, Quinley said. The supervisor made her first request for the first quarter of this fiscal year in November and there were no mistakes, she said.

The best practice for the district is to keep doing what it does, but in this case, she said, a second person should have verified the amount withdrawn.

Despite the one mistake, though, the district received two awards for its bookkeeping this year: The Certificate of Achievement of Excellence in Financial Reporting awarded by the Governmental Financial Officers Association and the Certificate of Excellence awarded by the Association of School Business Officials.

The district received both awards because it had all the required sections in its books and they were written so a reader could understand the organization's financials in-depth, Quinley said.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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