Toppenish schools question audit findings

June 20, 2013 

— Toppenish School District officials are strongly disputing findings from the state Auditor’s Office that the district misspent federal funds and reported that a classroom renovation project was completed before it actually was in order to certify that federal funds were spent.

The findings were outlined in a recently published state audit that covered the 2011-12 school year.

According to the audit, the school district reported a $284,674 project to renovate a classroom and install new playground equipment for special education students before it was finished.

The audit also said the district used $29,774 in federal school improvement funds to pay teachers for providing general education services, and took issue with several time cards not specifying the nature of work performed by teachers who were paid using federal funds.

Dave Andrews, the district’s business manager, said Wednesday that the audit contains inaccuracies.

He said the classroom and playground projects were supposed to be completed by August, but the district didn’t learn they wouldn’t be done until after closing the books that month, he said.

“With the state, once the books are closed, you can’t reopen them,” he said.

The audit report said the district issued warrants to contractors as if work was completed, then accepted checks from contractors covering the cost of unfinished portions of the project. The district held those checks until all work was complete, but none of it was reported, according to the audit. The audit also said the district failed to assure that all contractors paid the prevailing wage, which is required by state law.

Andrews disputes those allegations, saying the district didn’t pay for any work that wasn’t completed. “We held the money until the work was done,” he said. “Nobody got overpaid. There was no misappropriation of funds or anything like that.”

He also said the district assured that prevailing wage was paid when required.

“I went back through and found a whole bunch of statements that were filed to pay prevailing wages,” Andrews said. “Many (contractors) were small, one-man operations who did not have to pay prevailing wage.”

Andrews said the only thing the auditor’s office got right was the project’s completion date, something the district wasn’t trying to hide. “They were right that the project carried over, but they were wrong on many points but they don’t admit that,” he said.

The district is also contesting the auditor’s claim that it supplanted federal funds, Andrews said.

The work teachers performed outside their contracted hours fell under the federal school improvement plan the federal funds supported, he said.

“I gave them all the evidence to show them that we were not supplanting (federal funds),” he said. “We didn’t replace any of our general education expenditure with federal funding.”

The audit report said the district failed to specify on time cards the nature of work those teachers performed for those hours.

Andrews said in the past, state auditors told the district not to describe details of work in the time cards. Furthermore, he said, the school improvement plan is conducted outside contracted hours.

“Basically, we’ve got a grant for extra hours and the state is saying we can’t use it for extra hours,” he said.

Andrews said he’s forwarding his records that dispute the findings to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to set the record straight.

“When this goes to them, I have no doubt that OSPI is going to tell the state Auditor’s Office that they are wrong,” he said.

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