Kent School Board approves plans for independent performance audit of the district

Audit will look at financial transactions, policies and procedures made during the past six school years

The Kent School Board has authorized efforts to hire an independent auditor to examine the district’s financial behavior over the past six school years.

Board members at their regular meeting Dec. 12 unanimously approved a request for the Kent School District to take steps to bring in a company that will conduct a thorough, independent performance management audit.

School district officials said it will begin a competitive bid process for audit services. The audit will encompass financial transactions, policies and procedures made during schools years 2012-13 to 2017-18, with the ability to explore years prior to that period, if necessary.

The school district has been under public scrutiny as it continues to recover financially from a budget deficit.

Best to the school district’s knowledge, this type of performance management audit has never been done before here, said Melissa Laramie, spokesperson for the Kent School District.

Industry price range for such an audit is between $100,000 and $300,000 or more, based on many variables, the school district said.

The district’s budget for the 2018-19 school year, which was approved in August, does not include a line item for the expense. Depending on when the school board selects a company to conduct the audit, the board will work with the district’s budget and finance team to authorize the expenditure, Laramie explained.

The performance audit is separate from the regular state audit that routinely examines the school district’s financial practices each year, Laramie said. State auditors are beginning that task, she said, with the findings to be released publicly and for district review come spring.

The board’s move for an independent performance audit comes in response to two parents who filed complaints in September.

One of those complainants, Michele Greenwood Bettinger, has accused the school district of budget and policy negligence. In particular, Bettinger has requested that the school board ask the state auditor to look into what she claims to be an unapproved, “questionable” $3.2 million interfund transfer made to the 2017-18 budget to reflect a more positive general fund ending balance.

She also requested that the board place Superintendent Calvin Watts on paid administrative leave pending an investigation into the matter. The board didn’t respond to her inquiry.

“I think it’s crucial to rebuild trust in this district if there’s nothing to hide. (The state audit is) a quick, easy, economical fix,” Bettinger told the school board Wednesday. “I still have grave concerns. I feel like I’ve been asking honest questions for 15 months. I feel like I’ve seen board members ask questions for months and answers are not forthcoming.”

The district has maintained it has done nothing improper. Watts and school board members have indicated they welcome the audit to directly address any financial irregularity, impropriety and/or misappropriation of funds.

The school board affirmed that the state audit would include and address questions about the “3.2” transfer.

Ken Smith, an accounting professor at Central Washington University who researches school district governance, encouraged the board to hire comprehensive, professional auditors to specifically investigate areas, including what he described has been a pattern of district deficit spending.

“Why are we here?” Smith asked the board Wednesday. “You’re here for one simple fact … because the superintendent spent more money … expenditures were more than revenue … that’s why. … The reason this district is in financial trouble is for 45 straight months, starting in May of 2014 through February 2018, the executive of the organization and the board approved deficit spending.”

The performance audit, Laramie explained, will evaluate measures instituted by management to ensure that resources have been procured economically and are used efficiently and effectively. The audit, Laramie said, will look at all policies and procedures that were amended, created and revised through the end of the 2017-18 school year, specifically around vendor selection, purchasing, and contracted and commercial activities.

The audit will be a long process, considering its scope and nature, school officials said.

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