“For too many years, students felt no one was listening,” El Tejon Unified School District Trustee Anita Anderson told fellow trustees in a statement at the October 14 ETUSD Board of Trustees meeting.
Frazier Mountain High School student government officers Nick Onyshko and Tammie Christianson asked the board in 2007 for help in explaining why about $10,000 appeared missing from their accounts. They were juniors then. Onyshko and Christianson graduated last year without receiving clear answers to their request.
Two years later, Jason Kaff, Kern County Superintendent of School’s internal auditor, presented his report about 2008-09 with the assistance of County Assistant Superintendent of Schools Mark Fulmer. Last year, the ASB had about $224,012 in revenues from dances, a student store and athletic events with $201,301 in expenditures.
Kaff said 25 checks and underlying documents were selected at random for the year and examined for three criteria: 1) appropriate signatures (from the principal, ASB advisor and a student government officer; 2) appropriate receipts and invoices; 3) confirmation in the minutes of the ASB that the student council had approved the expenditure.
He said eight checks did not have proper signatures; 12 could not be verified as approved by student council minutes; and five did not show proper receipts. So, out of 25 checks selected at random for the year, the auditor found 25 procedural errors.
This audit was for 2008-09, Anderson pointed out, not the two previous years in which questions began.
Suspected mishandling of student funds in the 2006 through 2008 school years was a source of concern to students and community, but received little action from the FMHS or ETUSD administrations at the time.
Anderson said extending the audit to those years, “Is the right and moral thing to do. I want these [earlier] years audited. Parents and community members want to know where that money went.”
In opposition, Trustees John Fleming, Cathy Wallace and Paula Regan appeared to be eager to “heal and move on” rather than spend more time considering what may have happened to ASB accounts from 2006-2008.
Fulmer stood up in the midst of that discussion to state firmly but diplomatically, “Your external auditor will take a variance of $100 from a student account much more seriously than a deficiency of $10,000 in the general account, because [student funds] are subject to abuse. You must now record every dollar going in, and every dollar going out.”
Anita Anderson asked, “Why did you pick 2008-09? If you had picked up 2006-07 or 2007-08 there were many more problems in those years.
Paula Regan asked, “If there was a highly irregular cash problem, wouldn’t that show up in an external audit?”
“Not necessarily,” Fulmer replied, evoking a visibly startled response from Regan and Wallace. “Why do an external audit then?” Regan asked. Fulmer explained that with a lack of records, “you can’t track it.” Trustee Cathy Wallace repeated, “Because of lack of adequate records, you can’t see if money was taken or not?”
“Deficiency was found,” Fulmer repeated. “Lack of controls mean we can’t reconcile the account.”
Fulmer said new procedures implemented this year conform to the guidelines for handling of ASB funds. Prior to 2008- 09 they did not. The audit year selected “was to see if the new procedures implemented were working—but they weren’t adequate. They weren’t always used. Now Terri [Geivet, ETUSD director of fiscal services] and Acting Superintendent Danny Whetton have a plan,” Fulmer said, “Geivet will reconcile student expenditures, income and record-keeping at the district office.”
ASB Executive Vice President Danica Aguilar said students are eager to do proper inventories, use a new tape cash register, number tickets at games and keep minutes of ASB meetings carefully to avoid future problems. Forensic Accountant Rachel Unell, who had been contracted by The Mountain Enterprise to help the students, has now been asked by ETUSD to provide training in QuickBooks and control procedures to FMHS staff and the ASB class.
Anderson said she still wishes to see an effort made to confirm whether funds are owed to the ASB, “Standing up and asking questions has power. We want students to learn that truth and justice will prevail,” she said.
This is part of the October 23, 2009 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.
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