Toppenish School District Audit Questions Wrestling Travel Spending, Uneven Record Keeping | Education

A Toppenish School District Audit Report highlighted concerns over travel expenses, especially those made by the wrestling team, and questionable use of credit cards. The report also found spotty record keeping in some areas.

Toppenish School Board President Clara Jimenez promised to strengthen the district’s internal controls to ensure better record keeping and more responsible spending.

Travel expenses have been a hot topic at recent Toppenish School Board meetings, when members are asked to approve travel requests. Jimenez said the board generally approves applications, as long as it has the budget. But new board member Elese Washines questioned the fairness of spending tens of thousands of dollars on trips that benefit a small number of students.

The Office of the Auditor General’s report covered the period from September 1, 2019 to August 31, 2021 and was made public last week.

Travel expenses

The audit report highlighted the expensive trips made by Toppenish wrestling crews in recent years which cost $58,823 in total. During the audit period, the district paid for five out-of-state and six in-state wrestling trips.

The district also paid for three trips totaling $10,462 through the general fund, when only the ASB fund should be used to fund those trips, according to the audit report. He also recorded some sports trips as professional development or educational activities, not as extracurricular activities.

Jimenez said she didn’t know why the rides were recorded this way, but she assumed it could just have been a mistake.

Using district credit cards, the District of Toppenish paid for $9,360 in flights for out-of-state travel on behalf of the Toppenish Community Safety Network, a nonprofit organization that helps pay for out-of-state wrestling trips and other community activities. The association subsequently reimbursed the district for these trips.

“Because the district was paying the expenses on behalf of the nonprofit, this could be considered a credit loan, which is prohibited by state law,” the audit report said.

In its response to the section of the audit focused on the nonprofit, the district argued that two business transactions with the nonprofit were initially made in error and quickly corrected.

“No credit loan occurred in either case because the fee and refund were received within the same reporting period and canceled,” the district said in its response.

Superintendent John M. Cerna is governor of this non-profit organization. The audit report found that since Cerna is involved in decision-making for both the nonprofit and the school district, “it may be a conflict of interest under the law of the school district. ‘State”.

In its response, the district said this situation would not meet the state’s definition of a conflict of interest because the superintendent and business manager, who also serves as the nonprofit’s governor, do not benefit financially from the relationship between the district and the nonprofit.

“At most, the superintendent and business manager have a remote interest in the district’s relationship with the nonprofit — which is permissible,” the district said in its response.

During the audit period, the district paid for nine out-of-state trips costing $42,234 for the superintendent and other employees. He also paid $1,496 for in-state trips. Two of those trips were canceled and refunded for a total of $3,330, according to the audit.

Eight trips totaling $24,305 lacked documentation of the agenda or business purpose of the trip, and four credit card transactions on those trips lacked itemized receipts, totaling $6,753. During the audit, the district provided diaries justifying the business purpose of these trips; but no itemized receipts.

The district also reimbursed Superintendent Cerna for a $517 flight to Orlando, Florida. The audit investigation revealed that the trip had been cancelled. Superintendent Cerna reimbursed the district for the cost of the flight after the discovery.

The audit also expressed concerns about Superintendent Cerna’s practice of approving his own food and beverage expenses.

Toppenish School Board Meeting

Toppenish School Board President Clara Jimenez reads a written comment submitted in support of Superintendent John Cerna during a school board meeting Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022 at Toppenish High School in Toppenish, Washington.

Record keeping issues

Auditors had difficulty determining how much the district spent in certain areas due to a lack of accurate records.

“Due to the District’s lack of appropriate policies and documentation, we cannot determine whether all of its payments during the audit period were legal and authorized, or whether a potential loss or donation of public funds occurred. product,” the audit report says.

The audit also revealed that the district does not have a formal policy on how much money to allocate to students on school trips. This made it impossible for auditors to determine whether the district was giving students a fair per diem.

After two state tournaments, Superintendent Cerna paid for coaches’ and athletes’ lunches using the district’s credit card. The district did not keep records of who received those meals, which totaled $1,788. Students and coaches then received $1,185 in meals per day for those same dinners.

These students and coaches were essentially paid twice for these meals, according to the audit report.

During three trips, the district did not maintain accurate attendance lists, the audit found. Toppenish District eventually provided the Auditor’s Office with attendance lists for two of the trips, but some of the lists disagreed on the number of students who attended. Accommodation and meals on these trips totaled $3,024.

Jimenez said the district will strengthen its internal controls and strengthen its record keeping.

In the district’s response to this section of the audit report, it said it would provide training to employees on responsible travel and expense practices. Jimenez said the training would be for all employees, including the superintendent and board members.

Jimenez also said all credit cards will be returned to the district. Employees, including the superintendent, will be required to submit a purchase order to verify the cards.

The board will discuss the audit’s findings with the district’s legal counsel and consider its next steps at its Dec. 13 board meeting, Jimenez said.

Travel approval

Students or employees wishing to travel must seek permission from the board. Jimenez said as long as the district has the funds, she generally votes to approve travel requests.

“Children are exposed to new life experiences that they cannot have just by staying at home,” she said.

These trips offer students a chance to develop their skills, Jimenez said. Students can also be spotted on these trips, which helps them secure college scholarships.

“I think that’s an educational benefit there,” she said.

Elese Washines, the newest member of the Toppenish School Board who took office in April, said she is taking a different approach to travel requests. She said she was understandably critical of travel costs. In general, she is not comfortable spending a large sum on a trip that only benefits a handful of students, calling it a matter of fairness.

At a recent board meeting, Washines pushed back on travel requests.

At the October board meeting, Washines requested a discussion of travel requests worth approximately $82,000 that the board was asked to approve. This included approximately $44,000 to send the wrestling team to Ohio for an invitational tournament.

Washines questioned the fairness of spending $44,000 for a group of students to travel. If a group of students are allowed to travel nationally, all students who qualify for national competitions should have the same opportunity, she said.

“I think, just like a board, just to be more committed to this practice of fairness,” Washines said at the meeting.

Jimenez said groups that need funds to travel to out-of-state tournament conferences should let the board know of their requests.

The board approved the travel requests by a 4-to-1 vote, with Washines voting no. Sherri Darrow, Rebecca Perez and John Ramos also serve on the board.

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