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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, October 30, 2008

VCSD audit: “We’re in good financial shape”

By Jo E. Prout

VOORHEESVILLE — If residents missed the school board meeting last week, “you missed hearing the accolades,” said Sarita Winchell, the assistant superintendent for business. After learning how well the business office kept the district’s books, the school board accepted the independent audit report for the 2007-08 fiscal year.

Voorheesville had tightened its accounting procedures after the state comptroller in 2006 was critical of sloppy methods that allowed administrators to improperly use district funds, he said.

“We’re in good financial shape,” Winchell said this week. “We finished the year with the allowable fund balance of 4 percent. We didn’t go over. We stayed right within the legal [amount allowed].”

“I thought it was a very good report,” said school board member Timothy Blow, who is on the audit committee for the board. He said that only minor items were noted by the auditors. “Nothing of any real significance, whatsoever,” he said. “The district is in a good financial position.”

Certified public accounting firm Bonadio & Co., of Albany, reported to the board that the school district’s $22 million budget last year came in under budget by $645,424. 

“The big savings was in health insurance,” Winchell said. The district signed employees up for Medicare Advantage Plans. Retirees do not have to submit their claims first to Medicare and then to their insurance carriers, Winchell said. Instead, they submit claims directly to the insurance company.

“The premium went from $300 per month to $32 per month,” Winchell said. “It’s a huge savings to the district.” She said that the new plan saved the district about $150,000.

The audit report noted savings in instructional costs as well. Winchell said that a teacher may have submitted a retirement after the budget was created, which would have contributed greatly to the amount the district saved on expenditures. Winchell said, however, that no major changes in personnel took place.

“We did business just as we planned. We had more savings than we thought we would,” she said. “We are always looking to ‘where do we need to cut back? Where do we need to be prudent?’ We’re always looking at things.”

The district spent nearly $14 million on instruction last year, according to its statement of activities.

The school district also received $165,407 in actual revenue above what it budgeted, the report said. The bulk of the excess revenue was from refunds for expenses like health insurance and energy use from the previous school year.

The district received a $100,000 refund from the New York State Natural Energy Consortium, a Board of Cooperative Educational Services program, Winchell said.

“That was a big savings. They take our usage from the previous year and charge us. It was a clear savings in energy,” she said. The district uses an energy management program and has an energy manager, she said.

“It’s constant, constant getting the word out…watching your lights, getting the fans off. It’s starting to pay off, changing the way people think about energy,” Winchell said.

Transportation, operation, and maintenance costs were also less than anticipated, the audit report said.

According to the district’s statement of activities, $12.3 million in revenue was realized from real property taxes, while $6.4 million came from state sources.

“We have an unqualified opinion from the auditing firm,” Winchell said. “It’s the best opinion you can get. They didn’t have to cite anything.”

She said that the audit shows that “our financial statements are a true picture of the district.”

“It was a good audit to receive,” Blow said.

Small changes

Bonadio & Co. suggested two business management changes for the district. 

Because of a change in staff, the report said, the same person who prepared the treasurer’s report was also the person signing district checks. The report said that two people should do the separate duties.

Winchell said that Kathy Parsons retired as treasurer on June 30, and that Robin Burch became treasurer on July 1. Lori Saba took over Burch’s duties as payroll clerk, but she is still being trained, Winchell said. Winchell, herself, is now doing the treasurer’s report, she said.

“They’re fine with that, how we’re handling it now,” Winchell said. “One of the things an auditor does is they look around.”

“The internal controls seem to be in good working order,” Blow said. “I think Sarita and her department did a good job, according to the auditors.”

The report also noted that two school clubs were operating with a deficit, and it suggested that the clubs not outspend their funds.

Winchell said that one club had the money but had not deposited it in the bank before the audit. She said that the other club knows of its deficit and is planning fund-raisers to make it up this year.

Retiring debt

This year, the debt from building projects bonded in 1989 will be retired.

“This is a really happy year,” Winchell said. She said that the district timed the new elementary school bond issue to coincide with the end of the 1989 bond.

“It’s not being felt by the taxpayer at all,” Winchell said. “This district has always bonded for declining debt. We pay the principal faster. We’re always in the pleasant position of debt reclining.”

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