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Auditor review finds Washburn scoreboard issues

Posted by: Steve Brandt under Politics and government Updated: August 12, 2013 - 6:06 PM

An auditor’s review of student athletics and activities accounts has questioned how student fees to participate in sports and other extra-curricular activities are being handled at Washburn High School.

The critical findings are part of an outside review of all district high school student accounts requested by financial administrators at the district. They’re concerned about whether procedures to guard against misuse of money were being followed.

The findings allege that Washburn used a grant of more than $9,000 from the foundation of the Minnesota State High School League to help pay for a new scoreboard.  The grant guidelines set by the foundation explicitly bar using the money for capital projects.

The grant was apparently intended to help subsidize the participation fees of low-income students. The auditor’s review called using on a scoreboard “an ethical violation of the intended purpose.”

The scoreboard has not yet been installed because last year the district didn’t get necessary city approvals , and because neighbors objected to the felling of trees at the north end of the school’s athletic field for the scoreboard. The district is now pursuing a location on the field’s south end for it.

The review also found that $30,000 in student participation fees was shifted from the school’s bank account to a district-level athletic account, and auditor Barry Rogers said that was used for the scoreboard too. He said district procedures call for student fees to be held in the district athletic account, not the school bank account.

Daniel Pratt, Washburn’s former athletic director, disputed those findings, but said many of the financial transactions were handled by an aide. Pratt was hired by the Rockford school district to oversee athletics and student activities after he was shifted back to teaching duties at Washburn for the coming year.

Anger among some athletes and other students over Pratt’s pending loss of the post caused a walkout and a sit-in by some students that ultimately led to the reassignment of Principal Carol Markham-Cousins. She stepped in on the scoreboard issue over the project not obtaining proper approvals, rather than financial questions.

Although their income is split between district budgets and money raised from admissions and other income, athletic directors are generally responsible to principals. But a pilot effort may change that at Washburn so that the athletic director reports to the district’s athletic department, Chief Financial Officer Robert Doty said.

He said that one of the more troubling findings was that gate receipts involving large sums of money at Southwest High School are not turned in to the school’s finance clerk in a timely way. Doty said the delays sometimes exceeded 30 days. The review also found dormant subaccounts for activities no longer active at Roosevelt, which Doty said should have been reallocated.

Overall, the review found that there’s a need for more consistency in managing student activity and athletic accounts, and procedures will be updated to do that, Doty said. He said that district finance officials have been fighting a running battle with principals to get their school-level clerks to follow district politics.

That irritated school board chair Alberto Monserrate during the audit presentation, who said the issues persist despite being spotlighted.  He said, “I love training on all these things, but we need consequences –‘If you don’t do this in your job, you will not have this job.’”

(Photos:: Right, Chief Financial Officer Robert Doty; Left, School board Chairman Alberto Monserrate) 

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