Both the Plumas County Office of Education (PCOE) and Plumas Unified School District (PUSD) received clean opinions for the 2009-10 fiscal year, auditor Paul Messner of Messner & Hadley reported to board members Tuesday, Jan. 11.
On the county side, the audit had no findings; it had just one the previous year.
On the district side, Messner had four findings, which he called “a fair amount,” but they all revolved around the handling of Associated Student Body (ASB) funds, a problem for many school districts.
The audit found that ASB disbursements are not “consistently approved prior to transactions taking place. Additionally, in limited instances, receiving documentation was not available for some disbursements.”
The audit attributed these problems to “limited expertise of the personnel involved in the accounting for ASBs within the district.”
The district has responded to this finding by contracting for annual training for all site principals, ASB advisors and ASB officers. The district has also invested in software that will help track ASB funds. Finally, the district has hired a part-time ASB bookkeeper.
A refreshingly frank Messner said he had been doing school audits for a long time and “I can tell a BS response and this (PUSD’s) isn’t one.”
He also noted that the ASB accounts did not constitute a “material amount of money from an auditor’s point of view.”
Messner said his firm audits about 20 school districts up and down the state. He said PCOE/PUSD was in a “relatively strong position” compared to similarly sized districts elsewhere in the state.
On the county side, he said the office’s small size worked to its advantage. PCOE also has “no debt, no fixed-asset projects going on, modest ambitions and you’re good stewards of what you do have.”
Board member Jonathan Kusel asked Messner to clarify what he meant by “relatively strong.”
In the top couple, Messner responded.
Kusel asked the same question about PUSD’s status and followed up with questions about the district’s reserve, which has been a point of contention.
According to the audit, PUSD had a general fund reserve of $7.8 million, or about 30.19 percent.
After clarifying that the district counts general fund and special reserves (for a current total reserve of about 43 percent) while the audit just looks at general fund reserves, Messner said, “Nobody has 30 percent. Similar-sized districts have 5, 6, 7 percent.”
But, he noted, PUSD has declining enrollment, faces a possible shift out of Basic Aid status and is losing some federal (forest reserve) funds.
Superintendent Glenn Harris cautioned against comparing apples to oranges. “Revenue district (as opposed to Basic Aid), that’s a whole different ballgame.”
“Yes,” agreed Messner, before noting, “You don’t have deficit spending, which lots of districts do.”
Board member Bob Tuerck asked Messner to compare apples to apples: how did PUSD’s reserve compare to similarly situated districts?
“You’re higher,” Messner said. “But every situation is different.”
Harris described PUSD’s Basic Aid status as “volatile.” He said newer Basic Aid districts had been advised to keep higher reserves. He also noted that wealthy districts could more easily pass a parcel tax to supplement revenues.
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