CUMBERLAND — In an effort to address issues raised in a recent audit report, Allegany County Board of Education members met Tuesday in a special session to call for advanced standards for the audit they said could cost the board $550,000 to implement.
At the meeting, the board unveiled a plan of action to mitigate 19 negative findings in the report that was conducted by Maryland’s Office of Legislative Audits.
“There is not a standard that says this is the best practice,” said David Cox, superintendent of schools.
The board members, who have been frustrated by the critical report, discussed solutions to remedy the audit’s findings.
All 24 of Maryland’s public school Systems receive legislative audits.
The board’s plan discloses where members agree with some findings, while disagreeing with others.
“Having no standards is problematic. With our annual audit with Huber Michaels, they are very clear to us what the audit standards are,” said Cox.
The board sees having an advanced set of guidelines and standards for the audit as the key to future positive audits.
“Between now and the next audit, our challenge is to get the legislature to put standards in there. It’s as simple as that,” said Michael McKay, Allegany County commission president and ex-officio board member.
Board members said they have implemented several of the audit’s suggestions already.
The OLA audits began in 2006 and are conducted about every five years.
However, board members indicated that a new set of auditors arrived this fall for the board’s second legislative audit.
“Three auditors came here for seven months. They have limited background in education. They will tell you they are not here to tell you what you did good, but are here to make findings,” said Randall Bittinger, the board’s chief business officer.
One finding said the board lost $4 million in food service operations from 2008 to 2011.
The board subsidizes student meals from its general fund with annual approval from county commissioners.
Bittinger and others on the board defended what they said has been significant progress in lowering food service expenses and subsidies.
“In fiscal years 2008 and 2009, our subsidy was $1.2 million. We have got it down to a half-million dollars. We’re down 54 percent,” he said.
Bittinger said he feels the school system compares favorably to others.
“I worked at the state level. I don’t know any school system that makes money on their food service. If they do, they should be ashamed because they are making money at the expense of the children,” said Ed Root, board president.
“I don’t know of any school system in Maryland that breaks even, bar none,” Root said.
Cox said the new federal lunch programs, which require more fresh fruit and vegetables, — subsequently increasing work hours and expense — only reimburse the school six cents per meal.
“We have kids that don’t want a snow day because that means they won’t eat that day,” said Root.
“If you go to some elementary schools and see these bins with little backpacks in them and you wonder why? It’s because the kids get food to take home over the weekend so they have something to eat,” said Root.
“The bottom line is we are in a poor county. I support our food service program,” said board member Mike Llewellyn.
Another finding accused the board of overpaying bus drivers by $880,000 by paying for negotiated contracts instead of basing wages on miles and maintenance.
“We did not overpay bus drivers’ contracts $800,000 (sic) that we shouldn’t have paid them,” said Bittinger.
“They took one year: fiscal year 2010. You got to look at everything. Gas is more here and there are geographic differences from down state,” said Bittinger.
Bittinger said other jurisdictions, like Carroll County, pay more for maintenance than Allegany County and they didn’t get written up.
Llewellyn said he feels that the area has special circumstances.
“It’s different running a bus. They have special heaters on their engines for the diesel fuel. They need a new bus every 10 years. I don’t think they did their homework on this one,” he said.
Llewellyn said the board did a study and that it would be more expensive if the board took over the bus service operations.
“The contractors responded by saying they would go out of business if they didn’t get their rate,” said Llewellyn.
Since the board has determined that many of the audit findings are arbitrary with no provisions for funding, they feel expenditures to implement many of the suggestions have become a moot point.
Greg Larry can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.