School board OKs audit presentation
by Michelle Babcock
October 18, 2013 10:05 PM | 1605 views | 0 0 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print
CANTON — After months of demands for answers by School Board member Kelly Marlow about the fiscal 2011 school board audit, her fellow board members agreed Thursday night to pay to bring in an auditor to address her concerns.

While School Board Chairwoman Janet Read said she had still not seen the seven pages of questions Marlow claimed to have, the board approved the request by board member Michael Geist 5-1 to bring in the auditor after almost 30 minutes of heated discussion

Board member Robert Wofford opposed the plan and board member Rick Steiner was absent.

The vote cleared the way for audit firm Mauldin & Jenkins to present the 2011 audit findings and answer questions from board members Jan. 16, 2014.

The board also passed an amendment by 5-1, with board member Kelly Marlow opposed, to cap the cost at $1,280.

Questions were asked to be submitted for the auditor by Nov. 20, to allow adequate preparation time. The board agreed the first 45 minutes of the auditor’s visit would be used for questions that the auditor receives ahead of time, and the last 15 minutes would be for follow-up questions.

Cherokee County Republican Party Chair Rick Davies of Acworth expressed his support for bringing the audit representative to a board meeting before discussion of the item.

“I do believe there is great public interest in understanding the overall audit, as well as any issues and concerns with what the auditors found as far as material weaknesses and significant deficiencies related to the audit,” Davies said.

Read explained that it would cost $1,280 for a four-hour minimum to bring the representative, which included two hours of travel time, one hour of preparation and one hour of board presentation.

During a work session before the meeting, a representative from the 2012 audit firm had given a short presentation to the board about the 2012 audit findings, explaining that four out of six of the 2011 findings had been corrected.

Marlow walked into the work session in the middle of the 2012 audit presentation, and later asked, during the meeting, why the 2012 auditor gave a presentation but the 2011 couldn’t come back.

“We had a presentation in the work session from the 2012 auditor, Williamson & Co. Did Williamson & Co. charge for their presentation?” Marlow asked.

Read reminded Marlow that her question was already addressed at the beginning of the work session and “that was part of their fee,” and added, “I know a couple of us were late.”

Marlow asked why it would cost money for the 2011 audit firm to make a presentation to the board.

Geist said that in many cases, auditor presentations are “built into the contract,” and asked the board attorney what “provisions” were included.

Board Attorney Tom Roach said that Candler Howell, assistant superintendent for financial management, would be able to answer that question.

Howell said that a certain amount of hours were built into the contract with Mauldin & Jenkins, the 2011 audit firm, for them to discuss the audit with the board.

“They felt like they already exceeded those hours through the telephone conversation with Ms. Marlow and Ms. Read… they were going to ask the board to reimburse them for coming back up here to do the presentation,” Candler said.

Geist said, because of the cost, he wanted to explain the reason why he supported bringing the 2011 audit firm representative back to talk to the board.

“I think that it’s part of our responsibility that school board members understand finances of the district,” Geist said. “I’ll point out (findings) that raise my eyebrows — that make me want to ask a few more questions.”

Read asked Geist if he was going to point out things that had “already been shared with the board members.”

“These are things we agreed if the auditor came he could answer them, because tonight it would just be speculation,” Read said.

Geist said he wasn’t suggesting any wrongdoing, just pointing out things that “raised his eyebrows.” He cited two 2011 audit findings, the first of which was “corrected for fiscal 2012,” according to the 2012 audit draft presented to the board at the earlier work session.

The second finding that Geist mentioned was said to have a “policy implemented in fiscal 2013” to correct the finding.

Christian Hatch of the 2012 audit firm Williamson & Co. said during his presentation in the work session that the reason the finding was not corrected already was because “timing did not provide for proper implementation in the fiscal year 2012 audit.”

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Frank Petruzielo said that “when someone makes a comment” that would make people believe there’s “$37 million missing, that would be, clearly, something that the record needs to be clarified on immediately.”

“We’ve seen statements made, in some cases by board members, which would mirror that type of sentiment. That somehow these ministerial changes and movement of dollars from one fund to another has been characterized as, somehow, mismanagement, misappropriation, and in our view, and I think in the view of the auditors, including the Mauldin & Jenkins people if we’re willing to pay them to come, I think you’ll see that is rhetoric, that, that is not reality,” Petruzielo said.

Geist said he wanted to point out that he did not make a suggestion that money was missing.

Howell pointed out that both the 2011 and the 2012 audits were both “unqualified,” which means, “they did not see any fraud, they did not see any mismanagement, they did not see any funds missing.”

Howell said the findings related to journal entries.

“They were mainly just adjustments,” Howell said. “They didn’t list any mistakes… it’s timing difference.”

Read said that the board had been discussing the 2011 audit since May, and said that since the auditor would be at the meeting for an hour, questions needed to be submitted before the meeting.

“I know Ms. Marlow has seven pages of questions, other people may have questions,” Read said. “We talk about wanting to be fiscally responsible, we want to be fiscally transparent … this is our chance to take care of this, answer questions, hear from the auditor himself, directly from the horse’s mouth … we need to put this to bed, once and for all.”

Cheers and claps from the audience followed Read’s comment near the end of discussion about the audit.

During the work session presentation of the 2012 audit draft, the Williamson & Co. representative explained that four of the six findings were corrected in the 2012 audit, and that the other two are on track to be corrected in the 2013 fiscal year, citing timing as the only reason why they were not listed as “corrected” in the 2012 audit draft, which is expected to be finalized and made official in about a week.

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