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The Daily Ardmoreite
  • Dickson Public Schools Superintendent: Concerns addressed, district moving forward

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  • A recently released audit of the Dickson Public School district has determined school administrators and board member have followed and operated under its own policies.
     
    Despite following procedures, the re­port’s findings centered on the district’s lack of policies for meal reimbursements and travel claims. In the report, auditors described some of the out-of-district trips as “excessive,” and questioned a $1,397.05 credit card charge for a resort stay for the district’s administrators for a mandatory planning session in Feb. 2013.
     
    Despite no suggestions of wrong doing, the state auditors did recommend the board begin to review policies, adopt new policies and more closely review expendi­tures in the future.
     
    The Oklahoma State Auditor’s office prepared the investigative report, which was requested by more than 330 signa­tures on a citizen petition received by the state agency in December. The audit reviewed board policies, legal documents and district spending from July 1, 2011 through Oct. 1, 2013.
     
    Superintendent Larry Case said he and the district’s board of education have re­viewed the audit report. Some findings are of concern and the district has been mak­ing solid strides towards improvements, even before the report was released last week, he said.
     
    “While we are pleased that the State Au­ditor did not find any violations of law, we acknowledge that the report contains find­ings which cause us concern, and which require our prompt attention,” Case said.
     
    “In particular, the report highlights a number of occasions when district funds, including activity funds, have reportedly been spent in an unnecessary manner. Although the report covers events which occurred between July 1, 2011 and Oct. 1, 2013, this does not change our obligation to insure that district funds are spent in an appropriate, reasonable and prudent manner going forward. Many of the concerns listed have been addressed this past school year." The 21-page audit reviewed the following areas:
     
    • use of the administrative credit card in reference to travel and meal charges
     
    • compensation of district employees
     
    • record keeping of school activity funds
     
    • policies and trip forms concerning use of the district-owned vehicles
     
    • lease agreements of district-owned property When reviewing expenses on the administrative credit card, auditors concluded "the cost of some meals seemed excessive and the reason for some travel appeared to be unnecessary." According to the school's policy, the credit card is to be "used exclusively for travel expenses for staff and Board of Education members, provided there is sufficient supporting documents to insure that legal and appropriate expenditures are being made." During the time frame of the audit, there were 72 purchases for food made using the credit card for a total of $7,683.77. Reasons given for traveling outside of the district, included visiting employees in the hospital, going to the Oklahoma City area to buy gifts or supplies and traveling to the Oklahoma State Department of Education, as well as attending educational meetings and conferences.
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    The report detailed meals district employees partook during their travels including five employees dining at the Cheesecake Factory for a charge of $203.28 in Feb. 2012, two employees charging $17.94 at Qdoba in Norman a month earlier, and two employees expensing a $179.56 meal at The Ranch, a restaurant in Oklahoma City.
     
    Currently, there is no policy or guidelines regarding an amount an employee could spend on meals while in travel status. Employees are reimbursed the entire amount of the meal, regardless of cost.
     
    Case said he has already begun to create a policy for employees that would include a food per diem rate when traveling outside of the district. He said he plans to request the board review the policy for approval.
     
    Additionally, auditors questioned some of the trips documented by employees and stated attendance of three-to-five employees per trip as appearing excessive, such in the case of delivering documents to the state department of education and checking prices for district supplies.
     
    Findings also included expenses that were documented for planning sessions for the Dickson Board of Education and the district's top administrators, both took place outside the district.
     
    Auditors noted a charge of $485.71 in food at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Oklahoma City on May 3, 2013. The auditors interviewed former Superintendent Sherry Howe, determining the charges were made for an annual planning session for the Dickson Board of Education, during which time a special board meeting took place. While no action was taken and the purpose of the meeting was to develop goals and objectives for the coming school year, the auditors noted a public meeting held more than 100 miles from the school district "would appear to be inconvenient for district citizens." Months earlier, a charge of $1,397.05 was made in Feb. 2013 at the Gaylord Texan Resort in Grapevine, Texas. Auditors said Howe told them the charge was for a one-night planning session for six administrators. During the stay, meal charges totaled $1,842.20.
     
    After the resignation of Howe, Case took the helm of the district in October. He said there have been no out-of-district planning sessions since October and that will remain the case.
     
    "Every planning meeting we have had this year took pace on the school campus," Case said.
     
    "Going forward, all planning meetings for staff and the board will be at Dickson." In the report, auditors concluded that the district paid some of the highest school district salaries in Carter County, but the salaries and extra duty pay were appropriately approved by the board. Auditors suggested that the superintendent develop written job descriptions for all support and administrative personnel, including descriptions for all extra duty assignments.
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    In reviewing expenditures from the activity fund accounts, auditors noted that spending was well documented and funds for accounts tended to be used for the intended purposes.
     
    For the district's policies on employees using district-owned vehicles, auditors approved of the policies in place that require employees to complete a request form to use the vehicle, record purpose of trips and mark beginning and ending mileage.
     
    Auditors were unable to find all activity trip reports and concluded that there were many trips taken that were undocumented.
     
    Case said the district will urge employees to turn in the activity trip reports moving forward and more closely review the vehicles use. Some of the vehicles are used for driver education courses, trips for student clubs and teams as well as by administrators for out-of-district trips to educational conferences and staff development.
     
    Auditors inspected three lease agreements involving two houses and one tract of land owned by the district. The auditors concluded that the district has no written policies regarding the leasing of school property or policies for renting to school employees. The report encouraged board members to review all leases and consult with the district's lawyer on leasing of property before entering into agreements.
     
    Case said he and his staff will do a better job of insuring existing policies are followed and will work "aggressively" to take appropriate action in response to the auditor's report.
     
    "We are going to move forward," Case said. "There was no wrong doing. We just know we need to streamline some things and that is what we are going to do."
     
    Click here to read copy of the report: 
    http://www.sai.ok.gov/Search%20Reports/database/DicksonPSWebFinal.pdf
     
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