New audit shows fewer areas for improvement
Nearly three years ago when Stephanie Juneau started her new job as the Gunnison Watershed School District business manager, she was walking into a business and accounting scheme completely different from the one she’ll leave behind at the end of this year.
In the first fall of her tenure, the district opened its doors to an auditing firm, as it does every year, and the report back was exemplary: nothing in the way the district kept its books needed correcting.
Juneau says she didn’t know much about the process, coming from a position at Wells Fargo where she analyzed small businesses and provided the right ones with loans. But she knew that the auditors weren’t looking everywhere they could for mistakes. And by the following year, a new auditing firm was looking at the district’s books.
Juneau hired auditing firm Dalby Wendland and Co., which found 11 areas in which the school district needed improvement. But most of the firm’s revelations about problems in the district’s accounting methods weren’t news to Juneau—she was more than happy to have the third-party input.
“They were basically all things we knew that we needed to improve on,” she says, “but it was good to hear that from an outside source and that helped move things in the right direction.”
Over the next few years, the district’s net assets increased by nearly $3 million, the budgeted general fund balance went up more than $807,000, and the fund balance as a percentage of revenue went up to 18.5 percent.
And as the schools’ administration looks ahead to 2011, when the state’s contribution to the local schools is expected to drop to zero, the school district has money to live on.
“It’s really something I’m very proud of,” Juneau says of the improvements she helped bring about in the district’s business department.
This year, the auditing team from Dalby Wendland managed to find only four areas for improvement in the district’s accounting methods— giving more importance to two. One of those areas, Juneau says, might be something the district, for its size, can never provide.
During a presentation of their findings to the Gunnison Watershed RE1J School District Board of Education on Monday, December 13, auditors Pam Baumgartle and Jessica Miracle said most of the changes the firm had recommended a year before had been implemented.
“I think that’s a real indication of just how serious your people were about getting things cleaned up and taking care of what needed to be done,” Baumgartle said. “I was very pleased to see that.”
The two points of concern the auditors considered to be significant involved the district’s ability to track the number of tickets sold at after-school events and account for the money made. However, Miracle acknowledged, “We do understand that there has been some difficulty in coming up with a way to do this. We still think it’s an important item. Cash handling always presents possible risks for you.”
The other thing Miracle said was a concern was the district staff’s ability to complete “GASB 34 statements.” They’re basic financial statement forms developed by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board, which establishes reporting requirements for local governments.
“You currently don’t have an employee that is capable of completely coming up with one of these statements,” Miracle said. “And it’s a requirement for us to have to report that, but that is not uncommon for a district of this size.”
The two items the auditors discovered that were of less concern would both require more staff time. Miracle said there was a problem with the fact that the person in charge of handling the district’s payroll also has the ability to change the pay rates of the district’s employees.
Since that’s a glitch in the district’s payroll software, Miracle recommended that staff produce a report regularly “so we can know who has been making changes to the pay rates.” The auditors’ final recommendation would have the district reconcile all of its accounts every month.”
Both of the district’s lesser offenses were carried over from the audit last year. However, Miracle said, “It’s been a huge improvement over the prior year.”
In her summary, Baumgartle was pleased to report that the district has $87 million in total assets and $16.3 million in net assets. And while it has $70 million in liability, $61 million of that liability is accounted for with the $55 million capital improvements bond the district sold in early 2009.
For Juneau, the final audit—at least for a while—was a success. After leaving the district, she plans to spend more time with her daughter, who will be heading off to kindergarten next fall.
“I can always work later,” Juneau says, “but I can’t get back the time when she’s four or five.”