Schools chief proposes audit panel

Advisory committee would aid system in financial oversight

March 18, 2007|By Arin Gencer | Arin Gencer,Sun Reporter

Responding to recommendations from external and legislative audits, Carroll County schools Superintendent Charles I. Ecker has proposed establishing an audit committee.

This advisory committee would help the school board with its oversight of the school system's processes for financial reporting, auditing and accounting, as well as reviewing internal controls and financial systems, the proposal said. The group also would help ensure compliance with board policy and other procedures and guidelines and foster regular improvement.

Among their responsibilities, members would review financial reports, help select and meet with external auditors to discuss their findings and create "an open avenue of communication between the external auditors, financial and senior management," according to the proposal.

The committee would consist of two members from the board and three from the community - among them at least one person with a background in accounting or financial management.

The proposal follows a set of changes made this year, the school system's response to two cases of theft involving financial secretaries.

Wendy Sue Bowers, formerly at South Carroll High School, and Linda Sprinkle, previously of Shiloh Middle, were charged in the theft of funds from school-based accounts.

Bowers pleaded guilty last fall to embezzling more than $200,000 and was sentenced to 15 months in jail. Sprinkle was convicted in December and sentenced in February to six months in the county detention center. She also must pay more than $13,000 in restitution to the school system.

Ecker's draft proposal represents another step the school system has taken to heighten oversight of its financial practices, particularly for school-based accounts.

In November, school officials presented reforms to increase checks on the system with administrators and financial secretaries. They included making more frequent deposits for school-based accounts, ensuring that secretaries do not accept or hold uncounted money and providing a way for club advisers and teachers to check their balances.

Those proposed reforms have been in use for nearly a month, said Stephen Guthrie, assistant superintendent of administration.

Now the system is training club advisers on how to access their accounts, Guthrie said, and incorporating suggestions from financial secretaries as they grow accustomed to the new procedures.

"It's going very well," Guthrie said.

An audit committee would lend more credibility to the process, Guthrie added. "By having more people at the table ... you automatically have a more diverse sense of what changes are needed."

Although school board member Thomas G. Hiltz expressed support for the audit committee, he also said he favored looking beyond finances, examining additional areas for possible improvements.

"I'm looking much broader," Hiltz said, such as a committee that also asks whether professional development programs are rigorous enough.

"We need to have some effort, some culture that recognizes the value in being self-critical and uses that as a springboard for future improvements," Hiltz said. "Otherwise, if you don't have that sort of approach, I think you have a tendency to be lulled into complacency."

School board President Gary W. Bauer agreed, noting his interest in such a wide-ranging internal audit, instead of one that solely touches on hot-button issues.

Someone "should be in there looking at departments, looking at programs, looking at everything," Bauer said. "It should be the entire system."

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