Assistant Superintendant of Kern County Schools Mark Fulmer looks on as Internal Auditor Jason Kaff tells ETUSD Trustees his findings at the October board meeting. He found 25 problems in 25 checks randomly audited from the 2008-09 school year.
A Mountain Enterprise Editorial:
Should ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Economic Policies Guide Our School District?
Are $500,000 in student funds ‘untraceable’ at FMHS due to ‘poor recordkeeping’?
Two youngsters came before the board of the El Tejon Unified School District in November 2007 to ask trustees for their help. They said $10,000 in Associated Student Body (ASB) funds seemed to be missing. They wanted it back. It turns out that confused accounting at Frazier Mountain High School has obscured a much larger question.
During 2007 parents and the community heard FMHS students saying they had to hold car washes and bake sales because “we are in debt.”
We tried to find out why school kids would say they had to repay a debt when the school year was just beginning. We asked the principal of the high school. Dan Penner said he didn’t know what the youth were talking about. The kids said, “Mr. Roy just told us we are in debt.”
It was widely known that there were problems with loose controls on disbursements. Rob Roy—known to be one of Principal Penner’s closest personal friends—was both the Athletic Director and the ASB Advisor. Both the ASB and the athletics department are portals for money to flow into and out of school coffers.
But few of us suspected, until recently, that more than half a million dollars ran through our little high school’s ASB accounts in those two years. This projection is based on an internal audit this month reporting that in the single recessionrocked year of 2008-09, ASB revenues were $224,000.
The audit ordered by Mark Fulmer, chief of financial services for the Kern County Superintendent of Schools, was limited to one year only. It did not cover the two years the students were asking about—2006 to 2008.
The audit says funds flowed into the student account from dances and athletic events. In addition, fundraising by clubs and classes also attracts donations from community businesses and families.
Donating to our schools is a way of life in these mountains. In 2006-07, when real estate was still booming, most of us were very generous when students knocked at our doors.
Do the Math
Many who gave generously in 2006 and 2007 were unable to give at all last year. If revenues for 2008-09 add up to $224,000, we believe it is conservative to estimate that revenues in the 2006- 2008 “boom years” were at least 20 percent higher. That would be an estimated $268,800 per year—over $537,000 in ASB funds—yes, over half a million dollars that was so poorly traced.
Don’t Look Back?
Yet some trustees and members of the administration are saying, “our record keeping is not good enough, so we shouldn’t do an audit of those years, let’s just promise to do better and move on.”
That just isn’t good enough. A half million dollars in student funds is a big deal.
If there is no accountability, if trustees won’t vote to learn what we can know about this period, why should students trust those who are supposedly teaching them how to prepare for success in life? What message is being received by the kids: “leave no records behind and there will be no accountability?”
There are moments in public life when it is necessary to clean up the mess you’ve left behind before asking people to trust your leadership in moving forward. This is one of those moments.
Trustees should vote, on the record, for a financial accounting of the 2006-07 and 2007- 08 Associated Student Body funds. The accounting should be done by a competent, well-trained professional.
The public, the administration—and most importantly, the students—need to know what can be known. The findings should be reported to the students and to the public.
Then the board should require administrative action to confirm that community donations to our schools are never again at risk. We owe this to our students.
As Trustee Anita Anderson said: “It is the responsible and moral thing to do.”
UPDATE: The next ETUSD Trustees meeting will be Wednesday, Nov. 4, 7p.m. at the FMHS Library. A vote about whether to require a financial accounting is now on the agenda for that meeting.
This is part of the October 30, 2009 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.
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