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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, October 14, 2010

Clean audit for GCSD, but fund balance still $200K over legal limit

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — A state-required audit of school finances gave “the highest level of assurance that can be given,” said Timothy Doyle to the school board last week.

Doyle, with Bonadio & Co., presented the 55-page report, based on the year that ended on June 30, 2010.

“We do not identify any deficiencies,” Doyle told the board.

The audit noted only one area of noncompliance — the district has more in its fund balance than the 4 percent of the upcoming budget that is allowed by law. The 2010-11 district budget is $87.4 million.

Guilderland is over the limit by $202,530, Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders told The Enterprise this week.

Last year, Guilderland had $97,160 more than allowed in its rainy-day account. The year before that, the district was over by about $1 million, which the board backed.

“It’s a technical violation, the school board president, Richard Weisz, said at the time. The school board decided to break the law to prepare the district for dire financial times. “We’re not aware of any liability except we’re saving too much for a rainy day,” said Weisz when the board made that decision in 2008.

Sanders said this week, “Obviously, we’d like to be under the 4 percent, but we want to maintain as much fund balance as we can during these difficult fiscal and economic times.”

Board member Colleen O’Connell, who chairs the board’s audit committee, said at last Tuesday’s meeting that her committee had gone over the report in great detail and unanimously recommended that the board accept it.

Without discussion, the board voted, 9 to 0, to accept the report.

The report itemizes several financial highlights, including:

— While the district’s net assets remain positive at $28.3 million, they declined about $3.2 million during the year largely because of reporting “post-employment benefits liability of approximately $12.4 million under GASB 45.”

The school district had to adopt new reporting requirements as set by the Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB) for post-employment benefits.

“It’s a private-sector accounting method, creeping into the public sector,” Sanders explained earlier, adding that businesses in the private sector have had to set aside money to pay for the benefits, while school districts had not;

—         Guilderland’s 2009-10 expenditures were under expended by $2.3 million due largely to savings in instruction, pupil transportation, special education, employee benefits, and interest expenses; and

— The district’s total assessed valuation rose by $23.6 million, or just over 8 percent, in the 2009-10 fiscal year, indicating “a strong residential and commercial tax base.”

Problems solved

In a Sept. 22 letter to the school board, Bonadio & Co. pointed out five problems from last year’s audit that have been solved, and named one “repeat comment” — extra-classroom receipts for clubs.

The auditors noted 24 receipts that did not have the statement of profit and loss completed. Sanders said this week that the district is following the auditors’ recommendations for using pre-numbered tickets for events, taking inventories of sale items for fund-raisers, and listing collected money.

“We’ll meet with staff at the middle school and high school and re-inform them of the need for documentation,” said Sanders. He stressed that the audit hadn’t found any funds missing; it focused instead on the documentation process.

The letter listed these former problems as having been corrected:

Cash disbursements: The auditor last year said that checks other than for the school lunch program and general fund were not included in a warrant that goes through the claims audit procedure, and recommended that the warrants for all funds be prepared and approved by the claims auditor.

“We noted no similar findings during the current year audit,” said the Bonadio letter this year;

Passwords: Last year, the audit found, while testing information technology, that passwords were changed annually, and recommended changing every 90 days instead.

“Passwords are now changed timely,” the letter said;

Computer usage policy: The auditor last year noted that acknowledgement is received from employees who have gotten a copy of the district’s computer-usage policy. He recommended that the district put in a place a procedure where workers verify that they have received and understand the policy.

“The staff now signs an acknowledgement that they’re aware of the policy,” said Sanders;

Capital asset additions: Last year, the auditor noted that the actual cost of an asset did not match what was on the listing and said that, to ensure that capital assets are carried on the books at the correct value, all invoices should be matched to what is recorded on the capital asset spreadsheet.

“Everything they found matched the book,” said Sanders of this year’s audit; and

Written disaster recovery procedures: The audit last year noted that the district did not have “well-defined, written disaster recovery procedures” for its records.

Sanders had said last year that the district did have “a well-documented procedure” and that the Board of Cooperative Educational Services is used for records backup. He also said that there was “no guidance at the state level, no template” to follow for what is required.

This week, he said, through Internet research and audit comments, “We came up with a plan and we went with it….They’re happy with that.”

Other business

In other business, the board:

— Approved 25 change orders for the $27 million building project. If there is money left over from the project, which is nearing completion, Sanders said it can be spent on additional work or used to lower debt payment for construction;

— Heard praise from Sanders for the Guilderland Elks who every year give dictionaries to Guilderland’s third-graders. “They’ve done this year after year and we’re very appreciative of their efforts,” he said;

— Learned that Guilderland High School senior Ved Tanavde worked over the summer on breast cancer research at the Pharmaceutical Research Institute, presenting his results in September at the quarterly PRI seminar in Albany; he was asked to continue his research to be presented at the Intel Science competition;

— Heard that 13 Guilderland High School students were selected for the New York State School Music Association Conference All State Music Ensembles — Gregory Barber, Daniella Giardina, Stephanie Lasselle, Josh Palagyi, Kyungduk Rho, Noah Rubin, Paul Travers, and Matthew Walsh along with alternates Jake Benninger, Jonathan Bintz, Amanda Dame, Scotty Rubin, and Halli Travers. They will rehearse in Rochester for four days and perform in a concert at the Eastman School of Music;

— Learned that the district has secured $18,293 in state funds for its Learn and Serve America: K-12 School-Based Program;

— Heard that art teacher MaryK Weeks was filmed this summer by Mutual of Omaha’s advertising agency for its Aha! Moment Campaign during which Weeks described a baby bird rescue at Westmere Elementary School, which combined art, biology, community concern, and caring for nature. Also, Weeks’s pre-Colombian-inspired drawing, “Pio pio/Cheep cheep,” was featured in an online collection of Latin-styled art curated by San Francisco artist and author Maya Christina Gonzalez; and

— Met in executive session to discuss a personnel issue.

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