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School board gets insight on finances

December 16, 2011

By COLLEEN MCCARTHY
sdnedu@bellsouth.net

Starkville School District employees and school board members received financial training yesterday in an effort to clean up the district’s financial records.
School financial expert Smith Sparks spoke to the board about its role in the district’s finances and how to handle the regular financial issues it has to address. While he talked to the district employees about business practices and handling activity accounts, his discussion with the board focused mainly on the district’s budget and yearly audits.
Board members asked for the financial training after a number of issues developed from previous fiscal year audits.
“We talked about the board’s role with respect to audits and how we should handle those, what we should look for and what kinds of questions we should ask when we hear from an auditor,” Board President Keith Coble said.
In September, school board members vowed to clean up the district’s financial records before a new superintendent takes office after holding an exit conference with accounting firm Watkins, Ward and Stafford regarding the 2009 fiscal year audit.
In normal circumstances, an audit would take place within a the first few months of the close of a fiscal year. However, the 2008 audit was delayed, which caused the 2009 audit to be delayed as well. When Watkins, Ward and Stafford started on the 2009 audit, it had trouble getting information from the firm that handled the 2008 audit. By the time the firm got the information it needed, it was old.
There were a few minor issues with the 2009 audit, but Coble said it was imperative that the district maintain a spotless financial record in the future. The board has scheduled the exit conferences for the 2010 and 2011 fiscal year audits for January, which will put the district back on track.
“We’re playing catch-up, but I think we can prepare to ask the right questions so that we handle that in an appropriate manner,” Coble said.
The board members learned specifically about the board’s role in the budgeting process from beginning to end.
“One of the big things that Mr. Sparks recommended was that we do a mid-year assessment just to see where we stand,” Coble said.
Although there was no official movement made to begin scheduling such an assessment, Coble said it was something they would definitely consider.
The board president said he felt the board was now equipped with the knowledge to handle the different financial issues they handle on a regular basis.
Interim SSD Superintendent Beth Sewell also presented the board with a draft of some guidelines for approving funding for student travel, an issue the board has been looking into since November. Though the board made no motion to approve the guidelines, members gave Sewell feedback and the board should have some set guidelines soon.
“When you start to think about all the different student activities, all the different student groups, all the trips and all the different ways they are funded, it’s clear that it is a worthwhile effort to bring some consistency to this,” Coble said. “We want to make process better and as fair as possible, but it’s not easy.”
The school board moved its next regular meeting to Jan. 12.

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