The Office of New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli last week released the results of an audit of the Hicksville School District. The audit, which covered a 22-month period (July 1, 2006 to April 30, 2008), was conducted in accordance with generally accepted governmental auditing standards (GAGS) and reviewed district business policies to determine if they adequately addressed the procurement of goods and services; verified that purchases were made, goods were received and claims were processed as authorized; and reviewed payments to professional service providers in order to determine if Requests for Proposals (RFPs) were solicited by the district and that payments were made according to contractual terms.
While the comptroller's audit uncovered no illegal activities within the Hicksville School District, it did determine that the district did not use "prudent business practices" when they paid over $2.7 million for services without using a competitive bidding processes. The audit also determined that the district paid one firm $217,311 without a written contract. Additionally, the comptroller's audit determined that district employees did not follow board of education policy when it came to how gasoline cards were used and that there were not written policies regarding the use of store purchase cards, increasing the chances that that items not for school use were purchased.
The audit also determined that the district paid more than $5 million to some 44 service providers during the audit period and that in eight of providers tested, district officials solicited competitive proposals from just one. Additionally, the audit found that an employment agency used to fill 11 temporary positions within the district was not given a written contract and the board of education had not authorized the district to use said agency.
Based on the results of the audit, the state provided the Hicksville School District with the following five recommendations: The board should revise the district procurement policy to require that the district award contracts for professional services only after soliciting competition; the board should enter into written agreements with all individuals and firms that provide professional services to the district and ensure that these agreements clearly stipulate the services to be provided and the basis for compensation; the board should approve these written agreements by resolution; district officials should update the list of district vehicles and ensure that this list includes the identification numbers, driver and credit card assigned to each vehicle; district officials should enforce the board-approved policy governing the use of gasoline credit cards; and the board should develop and implement written polices governing the use and control of store-specific purchase cards.
In a written response to the state regarding the audit findings, Superintendent of Hicksville Schools Maureen Bright said the district has taken steps to address the auditor's recommendations. In regard to professional services, Bright stated that the district "utilizes RFPs in procurement of goods and services; however, in some instances, such as legal, technical and architectural services, as well as particular services for students with special needs, the district has exercised its legal discretion in accordance with General Municipal Law and district policy." She added, however, that the district "intends to review the purchasing policy in light of the recommendations included in the comptroller's report."
In regards to the use of gasoline and purchasing cards, Bright told the state that while the district acknowledges and accepts the recommendations, she believes clarification regarding these cards and their use is necessary. Since the district neither has nor chooses to have on-site fueling capabilities, it is necessary to "permit the use of credit cards for gasoline purchasing for district vehicles utilized by the building and grounds department."
Bright, in her written response, said that the district has "implemented additional measures to ensure and monitor the effective use of the gas cards, in accordance with district policy, upon identification by the comptroller's audit team... [and that] a change in staffing has facilitated the effective implementation of monitoring procedures for use of the cards." Bright added she was happy the audit uncovered "no finding of improper use of financial loss regarding the cards."
The superintendent also noted that the purchasing card is linked to a specific purchase order for a specific store and that all cards are maintained by the district's purchasing office and released by the purchasing agent. The funds are encumbered and all purchases are authorized in accordance with the district's purchasing policy, Bright stated, adding, "While we recognize that the intent of the report is to identify areas for improvement only, in light of the focus on purchasing, we do wish to note that each claim transaction is part of the internal claims audit process, a process which the district has had in place for the past 17 years," said Bright.
Additionally, Bright told the Hicksville Illustrated News she was pleased the audit uncovered "no violations of law or regulations" and that no "misappropriations of money or financial loses" were found." She said she "accepts the recommendations incorporated in the report and is committed to taking the necessary steps to continue to perfect district internal controls and operations." The superintendent added that the district also received several positive comments from auditors that were not included in the report.
In an effort to address some of the issues uncovered in the audit, Bright said the district has implemented some changes and procedures. "We are moving forward," she said.
Overall, the superintendent said the "welcomed the opportunity to have [its] operations reviewed" and that the results of the audit "install a confidence in our that things are going well [and] that we have an operation with a high level of integrity and outstanding employees, at all level, who are committed to what they do."