B.G. Schools addressing audit points

State audit released, but district was already working on issues

By Susan Parrish, Columbian education reporter

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The Washington State Auditor's Office released its accountability audit report of Battle Ground Public Schools on Monday, but district officials already had begun to take steps to comply with concerns the auditor's office presented to the district in a management letter Dec. 19.

The management letter noted concerns regarding the district's compensation for Shonny Bria, the district's former superintendent, and recommended the district take four steps. Otherwise, the audit concludes the district complied with state laws and regulations, as well as its own policies, in the areas that were audited.

"The Shonny (Bria) issue is past now, and these are steps we'll put into place with the new superintendent," said Duane Rose, the district's interim superintendent, who was appointed by the school board at Bria's departure.

First, the district should review employment contracts before they are approved. "The contract with the next superintendent will be reviewed by the board, the district's attorney, human resources and the business office," said Linda Gellings, the district's director of business services and risk management.

The second recommendation is for the district to ensure all employee leave is reported accurately. Bria was paid $63,936 in accrued and unused leave, but the district didn't have a process to accurately track administrators' leave.

Shortly after Rose and Lynn Hicks, interim deputy superintendent were appointed they "realized there was an issue" with how leave was reported. He noted that some administrators reported their leave monthly, while others reported it quarterly. The changes Rose and Hicks are implementing include requiring monthly time sheets from all administrators, he said.

As a further safeguard, the district will present to the school board the idea of forming an audit committee, Gellings said.

"Part of the audit committee's review will be of the superintendent's time sheets and leave taken and other expenditures," Gellings said, "making sure that what they're (the state auditor's office) recommending here is complied with."

Employment contract

Third, the district's payroll and human resources departments did not have a complete copy of Bria's employment contract.

"We're going to make sure that doesn't happen again," said Rose.

"In the future, either the board or the audit committee will provide a contract directly to human resources," said Gellings.

The last recommendation noted by the state auditor's management letter noted that Bria had two district cell phones concurrently, but did not identify or compensate the district for personal calls. The school board or audit committee will review the next superintendent's cell phone bills, Gellings said.

The state auditor's office doesn't plan a follow-up audit. But during the district's next regularly scheduled audit report, auditors will review those recommendations and check for progress, said Tina Watkins, a state audit manager who has overseen the Battle Ground audit.

These four concerns will "absolutely, definitely be a part of our next audit," Watkins said.

The state auditor's office is still working on an audit of financial statements and compliance with federal awards. It will be drafted shortly, Watkins said.

The audit period covered Sept. 1, 2012 through Aug. 31, 2013.

District officials requested the audit after the school board released Bria's $401,715 separation agreement. The board had kept the agreement secret for two months.

The district has hired a search firm to find suitable candidates for the superintendent position, which the district plans to fill by July 1.

In Washington all school districts with 8,000 or more full-time equivalent students are audited annually. The Battle Ground district serves more than 13,540 students.