Business as usual

State will audit district next school year


Story originally published in The Bugle, April 27, 2012.

Story originally published in The Bugle, April 27, 2012.

Athletes knows that in order to participate in their sport they must pass a routine physical.
The district is headed to the doctor’s office in the latter half of this year since the Missouri auditor’s office added it to the list of schools to be audited.

The district’s leadership and financial management has been the focus of media attention as of late, leaving patrons to wonder.

“I feel like some of the money that goes through administration could be handled better,” Mark Nosiglia (11) said.  “I feel that it goes to wasteful causes and I think that the money that was spent doing minor improvements around the school should be used to keep some classes up and running such as driver’s education or if they wanted to institute other world language classes.”
This is a common misunderstanding about how schools are funded. Different pools of money fund different operations; bond monies cannot pay for salaries, for example.

“Audits are vitally important because they provide an independent review of policies and procedures that are in place,” Mr. Spence Jackson, media director for the Missouri Auditor’s Office, said in a phone interview, April 16. “Often times things tend to get overlooked by the same folks who are charged with looking at those things every day. We find areas where things can be managed more efficiently and effectively to get the most out of every tax dollar that citizens send to a district.”

Since audits are so vitally important, Rockwood already undergoes the process annually.

“By law we have to be audited every other year, but Rockwood has as its board policy to have an audit every year by an independent auditor that we pay to come in and do an audit of our finances,” Ms. Shirley Broz, chief financial officer, said in a phone interview, April 13. “The independent auditor that we pay to come in and audit us each year focuses on making sure that the district is reporting what has happened in the past year to the best of our ability, that we are reporting accurately the revenues and the expenditures of the district and making sure that our public reports are in good shape so that people reading those reports get an accurate and clear look at the district.”

The audit is timely since much controversy has surrounded Rockwood in recent history. From June to November, “The Post” ran 16 stories about district leadership and practices.
A citizens group has formed, too.

“We first asked the state auditor to get involved after the investigative piece in the St. Louis Post Dispatch about Glenn Construction and their relationship to Rockwood,” Ms. Eileen Tyrrell, spokesperson for the Rockwood Stakeholders for Real Solutions coalition, said in a phone interview, April 12. “When the auditor’s office came out in January with the announcement that they were going to audit Rockwood, it was because we asked for it.”

While these concerns do exist within the community, RS for RS did not get enough signatures to force the state to conduct an audit of the district.

“You have a very vocal group in the school district that wanted to force the state to do an audit, but they weren’t successful in that endeavor,” Mr. Paul Stanley, Social Studies teacher, said. “In order to force the state to do an audit of an organization you have to get several thousand signatures of people living in the district before the state will even consider it, and that group that wanted to do that was not successful. Eventually, however, the auditor decided to conduct an audit anyway.”

The district, in fact, received confirmation from the auditor’s office that a petition was not the source of the auditor’s decision to audit Rockwood.

“The auditor’s office told us that they were not asked by any citizen’s group through petition to come into Rockwood; we have it in writing,” Ms. Broz said. “I don’t think the auditor has it as their intent to find any huge gross mistakes. I think they’re just coming in to make sure that we’re doing a good job and if they have any suggestions they can give us to do a better job they’ll let us know.”

The audit is considered routine for four reasons: it is not the result of a petition, the district is one of a few to be audited,  the state is paying for the evaluation and the audit may be postponed if more-pressing audits arise.

“There’s really nothing ambiguous about it,” Mr. Jackson said. “Ultimately it’s our decision whether or not to conduct an audit, and the Rockwood audit is an audit that we’ve chosen to do under our authority through state law.”

While the audit for Rockwood tends to have a negative connotation, these assessments are frequently conducted in many different circumstances.

“You can have audits in lots of different areas of life,” Mr. Stanley said. “A corporation can be audited by the government or by the IRS to make sure they’re paying their taxes and that they’re following the law.  A corporation can do an internal audit which means they hire a private accountant or someone from within the organization to go through the books to make sure they’re doing everything they’re supposed to be doing. A government organization can also do an audit of itself.”

Rockwood’s financial review, in fact, is nothing to be concerned about.

“I don’t anticipate that the audit will impact the day-to-day routines around Eureka,” Ms. Deborah Asher, head principal, said. “I look forward to seeing what the auditor’s office finds and what suggestions for improvements they have, but at the building level it’s not on our radar at all. It’s really a district-level issue.”

Not only are audits a fairly routine part of Rockwood’s overview, they are an important tool for any type of organization.

“If it’s a corporation or a business it’s important that they’re following the law,” Mr. Stanley said. “For people that are in a corporation it’s important for them to know that if they’ve put systems in place to protect the integrity of their business and to protect their shareholders and employees, it’s important to periodically check to make sure what you’ve put in place works. As far as a public institution like Rockwood or a government agency, I think what a lot of people would say is audits are important to make sure that taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely.”

The last time Rockwood was audited was in 1994. The auditor made 65 recommendations. The district carefully considered the recommendations, and the same approach will be taken with the upcoming audit.

“I started with the district in 1996 and part of what I was working on when I first came into the district was cleaning up and answering those audit recommendations,” Ms. Broz said. “We absolutely will address any issues that the auditor finds within our organization and we will make whatever corrections are suggested. We have to look at it as an opportunity for Rockwood to become better.”

Rockwood officials continue to devote their efforts to make the district better.

“I’ve seen good decisions made around Rockwood before like cutting driving from drivers’ education because it saves the district a lot of money. I think the district will make good decisions with the recommendations they are given so that our district continues to get better,” Nicole Pytlinski (10) said.

The importance of an audit is no stranger to Rockwood.

In spite of the motivations behind the audit, this financial overview is a doctor’s visit the district welcomes.