The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Stafford school budget gets new county audit
BY KATIE THISDELL
Auditors are looking into what the Stafford Board of Supervisors called a “bad practice” in the county school system’s budget.
The lingering financial issue concerns $1.8 million that was budgeted in one fiscal year, but spent in another.
“It’s nothing to do with a specific project; it was the practice that was utilized,” Supervisor Cord Sterling said Friday. “It’s a very bad practice to do that.”
In fiscal 2011, the money had been budgeted in the school’s general operating fund.
In October of last year, several months after supervisors say the books should have been closed, the money was moved over to capital funds to pay for ongoing elementary school renovations.
But the transfer was recorded as if it happened before June 30, the fiscal year’s end.
Supervisors say the School Board should have requested that the supervisors re-authorize and re-appropriate the money to the schools.
The county staff updated the supervisors’ Finance, Audit & Budget Committee this week on the progress of the audit, commissioned earlier this year to look at the issue independently from the regular countywide audit. The school system also undergoes its own audit separate from the county.
Auditors from Cherry, Bekaert & Holland held their first meeting with school staff Monday.
“There was some acknowledgment of the fact that there had been some misinterpretation of implementing things that [supervisors] had appropriated to [the School Board],” said Shelley Carmichael, county controller/assistant director of finance.
School officials said they want to work with the county staff, “and indeed they are,” Carmichael said.
She said a lot of issues surfaced, without prompting.
“That’s encouraging,” Supervisor Susan Stimpson said at Tuesday’s meeting.
Carmichael told the committee that the audit should be completed “fairly quickly.”
School Board Chairwoman Stephanie Johnson says the school finance department is working with the auditors, though she wonders about the need for it at all.
“I would question why there would be an additional audit on something that was already audited and signed off on,” Johnson said.
Several times over the past few years, supervisors have criticized the school system for the handling of the budget.
This spring, a School Board request to move $864,000 from the account for instructional spending to be used for maintenance and supplies was rejected because supervisors felt they lacked information. Quite a bit of time was spent debating the item during the budget process.
In 2009, a county-commissioned report found a Stafford County school system accounting error caused a $5.6 million surplus that went unnoticed for about two years.
County supervisors have specifically disagreed with Wayne Carruthers, assistant superintendent of financial services. He is no longer with the school system.
“We’ve had difficulty in having agreement on numbers and a difficulty on the conversation,” Stimpson said in an interview Friday. “We have over the summer really reached a turning point.”
Supervisors no longer appropriate money to the schools under categorical funding, which places limits on how funds can be spent. The supervisors approved a lump-sum budget for the schools this year, which Stimpson called a “good faith effort” toward a better relationship between the two boards.
“I think we’re seeing positive results of that,” she said. “Our finance staffs are now working together on a weekly basis.”
A common template for budgets could be used in the future.
Johnson said both boards desire to have a similar document “so there was no question about what went where.”
Katie Thisdell: 540/735-1975