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DeKalb Schools audit reveals lingering problems

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DeKalb Schools audit reveals lingering problems

Interim HR Director Tekshia Ward Smith, Vice Chair Deirdre Pierce, Chair Diijon DaCosta, and Superintendent Devon Horton during a school board retreat in July 2023. Photo by Sara Amis

DeKalb County, GA — The DeKalb County School District received an unmodified or “clean” audit from the Georgia Department of Audits for fiscal year 2022, which is a slight improvement over where the district was three years ago.

But the DeKalb County Schools audit still includes numerous findings, some of which pertain to how the district spent its federal COVID-19 relief money.

To see the full audit, click here. This year’s audit findings start on page 84 of the PDF.

The district doesn’t seem to have made much improvement since last year. Chief Financial Officer Charles Burbridge, who successfully brought the district back from the brink of losing its credit rating, offered a corrective action plan as his parting gift when he left last August.

However, without a permanent chief financial officer until Byron Schuenemann was hired in April of this year, or a permanent superintendent until Devon Horton took over in June, the district’s attempts to implement those corrective measures appear to have stalled.

“If you look at the findings for last year, it’s literally word for word the same thing,” said board member Anna Hill at a Board of Education retreat held on July 17.

Hill also pointed out that state law and their own policy hold the board responsible for the audit and making sure that corrective actions are taken. Hill said that the auditing agency should have met with board members.

“There is supposed to be an audit exit conference scheduled with the board that was not scheduled before July 31, and now we’re scrambling to make sure that it happens,” said Hill.

Schuenemann said that an exit conference was held with his department on June 29, but that it would be better to hold it much earlier so that corrective actions can be implemented before the end of the fiscal year.

In response to questions from school board member Vickie Turner, Schuenemann said that a March deadline would help the county be responsive to bond rating agencies and that an even earlier deadline would be better. Schuenemann added that DCSD was paying more than it should for the audit. School board member Allyson Gevertz suggested seeking competitive bids for next year’s audit. Schuenemann said that since DCSD is the DOA’s largest audit, considering other options should give the district some leverage to guarantee timelines and lower the cost.

As for the audit’s findings, Schuenemann cautioned against viewing them in isolation.

“Whenever you have audit results, it’s a reflection of your entire organization,” Schuenemann said.

Schuenemann said that the audit being unmodified or “clean” means that it is materially correct, and there were no instances of noncompliance with regulations regarding Federal funding.

The four findings regarding deficiencies in internal control included problems with the information system conversion, information technology, internal control procedures, and equipment management.

The conversion to MUNIS, the new financial information system, has been a topic of discussion at board meetings since at least 2020. The correction plan presented by Burbridge in August 2022 called for the conversion to be complete by March 2023.

Chief Information Officer Monika Davis said that her department had hired a project manager to oversee the information system conversion and that there will be a project schedule with a cutoff date.

Board members Vickie Turner and Hill asked for a completion date as soon as possible.

“We have to commit to a timeline for corrections,” Hill said.

Problems with internal control procedures that were identified included some misclassifications of expenditures and revenues; for example, money labeled as being used to purchase Chromebooks was spent on HDMI cables instead.

Several board members expressed a desire to make sure that the same problems do not continue. Hill offered a guide to absorbing the important points of the 105-page audit quickly.

Hill advised looking at the compliance and internal control section page, then at the summary of the auditor’s results and the financial statement findings. Hill, who works as a CPA when she’s not serving on the school board, suggested finding a quick and memorable way to summarize each finding.

“Look at what each section is about and give them nicknames,” Hill said, adding that doing so would help to keep problems that must be solved top of mind. …We have to do a better job understanding what the hold-ups are, what the status is. …If every person in DeKalb County knew how to read an audit this way, I would be so happy.”

Hill added that she’d be content if the school board would learn to read an audit that way.

For more information about the most recent audit, click here.

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