DeKalb County Schools Audit Reveals Million Dollar Questions – Decaturish

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By Sara Amis, Contributor

DeKalb County, Georgia — Two years ago, the DeKalb County School District was in deep trouble.

A state audit found significant weaknesses in the district’s internal financial controls, and bond credit rating firm Moody’s was preparing to downgrade the district’s credit rating due to late financial filings.

Current CFO Charles Burbridge was hired in October 2020 essentially to fix the problem. Based on the fiscal year 2021 district finance audit, conducted by the Georgia Department of Audit and Accounts, Burbridge was able to stop the bleeding, but the patient still appears to be recovering.

Significant deficiencies identified by the state audit include the conversion of the financial information system to MUNIS, which includes tracking of human resources and maintenance orders, general information technology controls, employee compensation and Federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding expenditures.

The district began converting to its new financial system in 2019 and has not yet completed the transition. The audit describes the results as a likely increase in errors and omissions, higher costs for the district, and a greater burden on employees, resulting in higher turnover.

The audit identifies the causes as a lack of adequate project management and a lack of internal communication.

“The school district lacked sufficient communication between management, project staff, IT staff, HR staff, and accounting staff to consider the impacts of extending the use of the legacy system while simultaneously leveraging the new financial system,” the audit said. “There was no detailed project plan or timely course correction when the target dates for implementing the new financial system were missed.”

Similarly, the delay in the implementation of MUNIS creates weaknesses in the general financial controls of the district, as noted by the audit.

“We noted that the school district did not have adequate corporate controls to protect the integrity, availability, and confidentiality of information maintained in significant financial applications,” the audit said.

Although not mentioned in the state audit, the district also demonstrated weaknesses in controls over student data, as reported by student newspaper Chamblee High School Blue and Gold and WSBTV.

Inadequate controls over employee compensation resulted in overpayments to several employees, including a $10,000 doctoral supplement to an employee who did not hold a doctoral degree.

The audit noted that the lack of oversight and documentation procedures also contributed to deficiencies in the district’s allocation of Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief Fund dollars.

Auditors sampled ESSER fund allocations from the district and found that a significant number were not sufficiently documented. Based on the sample, they projected that nearly $959,493 had, at the very least, a question mark hovering over it:

“After testing a sample of $131,698 of personal services expenses, known disputed costs of $29,094 were identified for expenses not supported by adequate documentation,” the audit states. “Using the total population of non-personal service expenditures of $37,797,179 (excluding benefit payments), we project the likely surveyed costs to be approximately $959,493.”

The report was careful to say that this does not mean that nearly $1 million in ESSER funds are missing or misallocated. However, this means that due to weaknesses in internal processes, the district cannot guarantee that they are not.

As a result of the audit’s findings, Georgia’s DOAA designated DeKalb a “moderate risk” school district.

According to Meghan Frick of the Georgia Department of Education, “The school system has 120 days to provide a corrective action plan signed by all board members. We then follow up to ensure that the corrective action plan appears detailed enough to eliminate the finding. The district is considered moderate risk until the next audit.

When Burbridge and Acting Superintendent Dr. Vasanne Tinsley presented the findings of the audit at the July 11 school board meeting, board members received it as welcome news while acknowledging the need to do more work.

“I just want to thank you for moving us from late, high risk to one-time, moderate risk,” board member Deirdre Pierce said.

“Just in my years on the board, we’ve come light years in auditing,” said board member Allyson Gevertz.

The corrective action plan required by a new state law that took effect July 1 will be presented at the August board meeting and must be signed by all board members. However, board member Dr. Joyce Morley indicated she was willing to delay this process, asking, “What if we don’t all agree?” »

Tinsley responded that his administration would attempt to answer any questions council members may have and expressed confidence that any concerns would be resolved.

An official statement from DCSD spokesman Donald Porter acknowledged the shortcomings found in the audit, but expressed optimism that the district will be able to address them, stating, “Dr. Tinsley remains confident that the District will respond to the findings identified in the report and work diligently for a clean and amended audit.

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