Cumberland Times-News

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February 16, 2013

Board feels misconceptions surround report

CUMBERLAND — The Allegany County Board of Education continues to provide explanations into a recent critical audit report received from Maryland’s Office of Legislative Audits, offering insight into how the report came to be and how it was compiled.

The audit report contained 19 findings that were critical of many of the BOE’s processes and procedures.

During the board’s monthly public meeting held Tuesday, Randy Bittinger, the school sytem’s chief business officer, addressed the audit.

“They (the OLA) said the report was going to be negative, and they were true to their word,” said Bittinger.

He took the opportunity to speak publicly to offer background on the report.

“Instead of speaking about specific findings, I think it would be helpful to talk about the history and the process. I think this would put the findings in a more understandable light,” said Bittinger.

The 19 findings include an $888,000 loss from poorly structured bus driver contracts, a $4 million loss in food service operations and a failure to bill Medicaid reimbursable claims in a timely fashion.

The report is also critical on issues such as a failure to obtain bids for service projects, paying medical claims without review, and improper procurement and vendor payment procedures, including a lack of independent oversight.

Superintendent of Schools David Cox wrote to the OLA in early January, disagreeing with some findings and accepting others, while pledging to take all suggestions into consideration.

The board has stated that there are no penalties or enforcement mechanisms associated with the report. However, board members desire to set the record straight on the nature and details in the findings.

“The decision to audit school systems came about in 2005,” said Bittinger.

“Baltimore City Public Schools asked for money to cover persistant deficits. They got that money, but from this a decision was made that all of Maryland’s public schools were to receive an audit. The reports were to come out about every 5 to 6 years,” said Bittinger.

Allegany County Public Schools, which were selected to be first, were audited in January 2007. A second audit was completed in December 2012.

The three auditors arrived in August 2011 and left in March 2012, generating the 40 page audit.

“They told us up front. They are not here to tell us what you did good,” said Bittinger.

Bittinger said they received the audit just before Christmas and were given until Jan. 15 to reply.

“The findings tend to be similar for all schools. We have made an attempt to point out to them how Allegany County differs from other jurisdictions,” said Bittinger.

Bittinger has pointed out that many of the OLA’s recommendations would require hiring additional personnel to implement them.

“This is difficult considering there are no money or funds made available to implement and any of the findings,” said Bittinger.

It provides no information on what a school system can do to prevent getting a finding, according to Bittinger.

“There are no standards to look to. They use governmental auditing standards that pertain to risk based auditing processes. This means the auditor is in the role of a consultant,” said Bittinger.

“All of the school systems are dealing with this. In 2007 we had 17 findings and Washington County had 17. In 2010 Garrett County had 22,” said Bittinger.

The fact that the school system had repeat findings on the latest audit was addressed.

“Having repeat findings is not unique to us. If you look at reports from other school systems, you will see the same thing,” said Bittinger.

Bittinger said those that went later had an advantage over ones that went first like county schools did.

“I don’t mean to demean or discredit the work of the legislative auditors,” said  Bittinger.

“There is a public perception that we have ignored these issues. We have not ignored the issues,” said board member Mike Llewellyn.

“Let’s talk about how we have not lost $4 million in food service and how we subsidize that,” said Llewellyn.

“It would be nice to invite our legislative delegation to a joint session. Let’s talk about the good things that we do,” said board member Sara-Beth James.

“We have implemented several of the recommendations already. We know we can get better. We’re down $10 million in state aid and so you have to get better,” said Bittinger.

The board has agreed to hold a public work session on Mar. 5 to go over the findings item by item.

The audit report can be viewed at www.ola.state.md.us along with the reports from all of Maryland’s 24 public school systems.

Greg Larry can be contacted at glarry@times-news.com.

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