Sloppy Tracking of Student Funds Leaves $439,000 Still in Question

Use of 2006-08 ASB Funds for Alcohol, Golf Cart, Facility Repair Called ‘Questionable’

By Patric Hedlund

“Kids raised the money and then the money was used for other purposes,“ said El Tejon Unified School District Board Chair Anita Anderson in an interview this week about findings reported by Jason Kaff of the Kern County Superintendent of School’s Office about the 2006-07 and 2007-08 Associated Student Body finances at Frazier Mountain High School. Kaff read his concise report to the ETUSD Board of Trustees at their April 14 meeting.

Spending from ASB accounts under Athletic Director and ASB Advisor Rob Roy (a former FMHS teacher) and Frazier Mountain High School Principal Dan Penner was called “questionable use” in the restrained but devastating review. Terri Geivet was ETUSD’s director of fiscal services during that period. The district’s auditor did not look at the ASB accounting during their annual audits and made no mention of irregularities, Geivet said.

In an interview, Asst. Supt. of Kern County Schools, Division of Administration and Finance, Mark Fulmer, said ASB accounts are especially important to review in annual audits.

It took a November 2007 plea to trustees from FMHS juniors Nick Onyshko and Tammie Christianson to “give us back our money” to begin an inquiry. To assist the students to learn how such purchases as a golf cart for use by the athletic director and principal were made with ASB funds, The Mountain Enterprise provided the services of forensic accountant Rachel Unell. But both ASB officers graduated in 2009 without useful information being produced by the administration.

“I felt that everyone was culpable because no one was paying attention to ASB [accounting] all up and down the chain,” said Anderson.

After the students graduated without being able to resolve their questions, Unell and The Mountain Enterprise gave a letter about irregularities in FMHS bookkeeping and the lack of records to Trustees Anderson and John Fleming. Both had expressed interest in the ASB funds situation.

When they reported the findings to their board in the summer of 2009, then-Interim Superintendent Mark Fulmer called for a review of ASB money handling.

The Kern County Superintendent’s office selected the 2008-09 year to review, after teacher Tim Garcia had replaced Rob Roy as ASB Advisor, and after it was widely known that there had been problems in the two preceding years.

“We wanted to see what improvements had been made,” Fulmer said, when asked why the most recent year was chosen for the review rather than the years in which there was possible mishandling or loss of student funds. Still, random selection of 25 transactions from 2008-09 by Jason Kaff showed 25 irregularities.

New ASB procedures have now been put into place, such as taking regular inventories in the student store, immediately counting and filing cash reports signed by two people following fundraising events, reconciling bank statements, adhering to check-signing procedures required by law—such as securing an ASB officer’s authorization for disbursements and keeping mandated files of signed minutes to document that ASB members agreed to purchases.

The current ASB membership, officers and advisor are carefully adhering to these basic procedures, Danica Aguilar told the trustees April 14.

But still, the questions about the two earlier years remained.

A random sampling of 30 transactions for each of the years, 06-07, 07-08 was taken. There were, even in this small, random sampling, many instances of eye-opening “questionable and inappropriate” uses of student money.

In addition to construction of the locker fence, the golf cart purchase, PSAT materials purchase, scoreboard repair and staff lunches, there was purchase of alcohol with student funds. There was cash that was collected, but not deposited, therefore called “lost.” No amount for that sum is noted in the report.

There is no assurance that the student fund has received all the money owed to it from those years, yet both years are shown with the students running a deficit. The report says the ASB had revenues for the 2006-07 fiscal year of $218,928 and $220,531 in 2007-08, with expenses of $252,188 and $234,074 respectively, indicating that the students have been charged with deficits in both years, despite all the non-ASB expenditures tracked in their accounts. That is a $33,260 reported deficit in 2006-07 and a $13,543 deficit in year 2007-08.

Questions not asked or answered in Kaff’s report, but obvious to many observers include: Was a cumulative $45,803 deficit charged to the ASB to pay? If so, how did they do that? Can this be considered a real deficit, when the record keeping has been so inadequate?

Is it possible that the school owes the students $45,503 or more? How can that be known without an audit?

At the April 14, 2010 trustees meeting, Anita Anderson expressed her dismay, saying “the lack of oversight, accountability and responsibility falls upon everyone entrusted in serving the education of our students….”

John Fleming said he thought the report was valuable, and that procedures have been put in place to correct the errors that were made.

Gary Meyer from The Mountain Enterprise asked whether the district owes the students money. Trustee Paula Regan said, “That student later came back and said the question about the $10,000 had been satisfied.”

The student she was referring to is Nick Onyshko, now in college. He told the trustees a couple of months before his FMHS graduation that the principal and the bookkeeper told him there had been data entry errors that may have made it look as if the ASB had more money than it actually had, so maybe $5,000 of the $10,000 the students felt they were owed had been “found.”

That same night, Onyshko explicitly told this reporter and Trustee John Fleming that he had not been given adequate records by the principal or the bookkeeper to make the determination himself. He said he was given oral “explanations,” but nothing in writing.

“Maybe if 100 parents showed up at a board meeting there would be more desire on the part of the administration to do something about this, or call for a full audit,” Anderson said about the question of whether money may still be owed to the students’ ASB fund.

Still, going forward, the board chair is convinced that the changes made this year are solid: “I want the parents and the community to know that the board is on top of the changes and people can feel comfortable about donating again because there are checks and balances in place,” Anderson said.

Read related reports and commentary:

from November 16, 2007, Should Student Activity Funds Be Used to Buy Golf Cart for High School Administration?

from November 23, 2007, Wisdom and Doubt

from November 30, 2007,  Green Tue$day at FMHS

from December 7, 2007, Editor’s Corner: Trust and Onions Can Both Make You Weep

from December 21, 2007, ‘It’s Not Just About the Golf Cart’ Some Parents Say, Others Say ‘It’s OK Now….’

from September 25, 2009, County Audit of ASB Funds Nearly Complete

from October 16, 2009, Audit for ASB Funds Are in for 2008-09

from October 23, 2009, ASB Audit Questions Linger

from October 30, 2009, Are $500,000 in Student Funds Untraceable at FMHS?

from October 30, 2009, From the ASB Audit Trail by student and ASB officer Joey Teare

from November 13, 2009, Audit of High School ASB Funds to Proceed

from May 7, 2010, School Accounts Need Full Audit Says Former Student Body President

Small Sample of Letters

from March 2009, ‘No Pointing’ on ASB Money Questions

from April 2009, A letter on money owed to the ASB and remarks by ETUSD Trustee John Fleming

from November 23, 2007 With Leaders Like This, Who Needs Enemies?

This is part of the June 11, 2010 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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