Letter to the Editor: CCPS Financial Reporting

Last year I was stunned to read how after salary freezes, program cuts, and staff reductions in the schools, somehow CCPS ended up with a surplus of nearly $1 million for Fiscal Year 2009. Several thoughts went through my mind as I read the article. First, how can a school system with an operating budget of less than $19 million leave so much on the table? Especially given the cuts. Second, I was amazed at how no one on the Joint Finance Committee lobbied on behalf of the students to have this carryover directed towards the operational or capital needs of the school system. When the carryover was discussed by the Board of Supervisors, it was decided to transfer $500,000 of the nearly $1,000,000 towards the County debt. As I saw it, deep cuts were made into the operational funding of school system, and none of the Joint Finance Committee members felt it necessary to lobby for the funds to address operational / capital needs of the school… technology comes to mind. I’m particularly distressed by the actions, or inactions, of the elected School and Supervisor officials who sit on the Joint Finance Committee, and who are directly tied to the funding of the schools. While I can’t reconcile the latter concern, I think I may have discovered some insights as to what caused the carryover to occur in the first place.

Recently, the Joint Finance Committee invited the accounting software vendor, RDA, with whose system the county has used for the better part of the last two decades, to come in and provide a “Best Practices” analysis. The study was performed this past fall and was given to the Joint Finance Committee on or around December 13th. Yes, the vendor has an interest in selling upgrades for their product but it is unusual to take on an endeavor like this with such honesty. It can be argued that RDA lacks the credentials of the Government Financial Officers Association (GFOA), there is truth to that argument. But it can also be argued that nobody understands the capability of the RDA Software better than RDA. After all, who better to report the difference between the current status of Clarke County financial reporting to what the RDA system can provide? The subsequent text comes straight from the RDA Best Practice report and is centered on the financial data the schools and the county are relying on to track expenditures and make financial decisions. I’ll allow the readers to draw their own conclusions.

——————-

“ v. Financial Data in disarray

a) Examples of data issues:

  • Encumbrances are either not understood or aren’t a priority. Encumbrance accounting manages the difference between our commitments and year to date activity. This is essential for effective forecasting by administrators.
  • Fiscal year 2011 expenditure subsidiary accounts display $33,167,907.51 for encumbrances for the school district.
  • Purchase Orders by Account Sum to $23M for School Definition Type and Fiscal Year 2011.
  • Entire 2011 budget for the school district is $24M.
  • Year to Date expenditures for the school district already over $10M.
  • Review of the previous items together reflects a $20M short fall.
  • Budget Availability.
  • Numerous Accounts still in the system no longer in use.
  • COA not adapted with growth of organization.
  • Detail level elements for supplies, utilities, etc.
  • Summary elements for rolling up reports for leadership and board review.
  • Need Location in County Definition type for pulling accurate financial reports by facility.
  • Need additional Account Codes based on COA Improvements.
  • Reconciliation of cash with bank balances isn’t happening.

b) Key players need training

  • SBO
  • Account Managers
  • Facility Managers
  • County Administration

c) Special Revenue donated from fund-raisers earmarked for specific purposes must be kept out of the general fund and shown on its own project’s revenue.

d) Training on Use and Preparation of Financial Reports desperately needed.

e) Review VA School Accounting Requirements against current setup.

f) Work with key players to develop screen defaults, etc

vii. Budget Preparation doesn’t appear to be implemented.
No evidence budget preparation is automated. High percentage of school budgets are HR related. Leveraging this data will allow very accurate forecasting with minimal effort. Furthermore, this information may again be leveraged when preparing payroll for the next fiscal period. This avoids duplication of work and reduces opportunity for human error.

No Capital Assets.

No Historical Work Sheets or data to provide same.

Moving Allocations while losing historical perspective at times of extreme budget constraint prevents proper planning by decision makers.

Budget Amendments removed. This prevents review of historical cause and affect relationships when forecasting.”

Best Practices Clarke County Open RDA, December 2010

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I do not have the ability to cross reference the accuracy of this report but it should be noted that the information contained in the RDA Best Practices was derived by direct input from the county/school end-users of the RDA system. While the full report is much too large to include in this writing, anyone wishing to obtain a copy by downloading it here (RDA Best Practices Clarke County) or by submitting a FOIA request to either the school system or county government office.

This is the type of information the public has a right to know. The RDA report has been available for over 8 weeks and yet nobody on the street has ever heard of it…until now. When reading the report it is obvious that a tremendous amount of County and School personnel time was spent on this study. In other words, the citizens of Clarke County have a financial interest in this study. In addition, when nearly one million dollars of school operating funds are left unspent, and no one seemed to know about it until after the year was over, it’s a community issue. The Joint Finance Committee and the Board of Supervisors have sat on the RDA report since December 13th. . Hiding the facts, for whatever reason, (fear of “hexing” the financials maybe) does not help the community or the county as a whole.
It is my understanding that in response to this report, the BOS has authorized yet another study. This one was performed by the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA). I have been told the study will cost between $20,000 and $30,000 and was conducted last week. Given the fact that the County has had at least a month and a half to clean things up, I trust things were found to be in much better shape, in all departments. The question is how did it ever get like this? (The Joint Finance Committee is made up of BOS Chairman Mike Hobert, former SB Chairwoman Robina Rich Bouffault (who will be replaced by Emily Rhodes at the next meeting), Director of Joint Administrative Services Tom Judge, Superintendent of Schools Michael Murphy, and Treasurer Sharon Keeler.)

Phil Trayer
Berryville, Va.

Comments

  1. Very interesting.

    However, we must view this with a grain of skepticism because Mr. Trayer worked for the previous School Board. It does bring up some interesting points. I wonder if we’ll get a response?

  2. clarkehaven says:

    O M G!!!!! unspent tax money!!!!!

    Every small school district has some system weaknesses, especially in handling unusual transactions. It would appear that the Encumbrance accounting problems relate to the new high school construction which is not a recurring issue. We have audits to address situations like this.

    The report is issued by an uncertified organization with a clear agenda to create a sense of urgency for their services…..it appears to have worked on some.

  3. Fly on the wall says:

    And, when he DID work for the previous School Board, the budgets he put together were solid – even award-winning for their construct and clarity of content. Don’t know that the current JAS director has ever won such recognition from his peers.

    Dr. Murphy did lobby to use those funds, but the BoS was adamant that half of the carryover be dedicated to the school construction…even though they have no direct say in how school funds are spent once appropriated, they implied that they wouldn’t approve the use of the carryover unless their stipulation was agreed to.

  4. This is a letter filled with deliberate mis-information, partial facts and totally erroneous conclusions based upon the resentment of a disgruntled former employee whose position was eliminated due to those very same FY09 budget cuts.

    Mr. Trayer, who was in control of the school finances and working on the FY09 year budget (spring 2008 when that budget was being established) is well placed to know the difference between an operating budget and a capital budget, however has deliberately confused the two. The 1 million dollars reserved by the county is NOT for operational, but for CAPITAL construction school expenses, and is still available to the school board when needed (for our upcoming renovations of our 3 other schools). The 1 million was NOT operational “carry-over”.

    As to the RDA report, this report was repudiated by not only the entire JAS board but other county departments including the Treasurer’s office, given that it contained many inaccuracies, deliberate anecdotal misstatements and other comments designed more to try and defend its own poor performance and lack of response to the on-going problems voiced by the many agencies when trying to use its programmatic software. It has repeatedly failed to correct these problems and is somehow trying to blame the client instead of its own inadequacies.

    To the contrary, the JAS is proactively tackling this issue, and indeed has commissioned an in-depth study which will result in a positive overhaul of our financial IT systems, much greater cost efficiencies and better working environment for all of our employees.

    I am very disappointed in Mr. Trayer’s deliberate negative “spin” to all of this which appears to be more motivated by personal resentments than any real desire to help our school division and this county during its most difficult financial period in recent history.

    Robina

    • Alternatively, he has shined a light on potential problems and questions that should be answered by the BOS and SB. Whether or not the “study” in your opinion is faulty is just that, your opinion. He is entitled to his and by your own admission has a background to offer an opinion on the issue. Just because it asks tough questions and may disagree with your p.o.v., does not in and of itself make it faulty. Why does/did it take this forum to have the report come to light?

      • Regrettably, Mr. Trayer has not “shed any light” on any problems. He has deliberately misinformed the public, while maligning the people actually doing the work, without any attempt to truly inform himself or the public about the real facts.

        My “opinion” is based on the facts derived from being on the JAS board that had to deal with all of these issues – not conjecture. WHERE was Mr. Trayer at the monthly J.A.S. PUBLIC meetings in 2010 where the RDA concerns and potential solutions were repeatedly discussed in detail??? I was at ALL of those meetings (held monthly), but did not see him there even once.

        Instead Mr. Trayer deliberately zeroed in on a very flawed report from a poor performing, non-responsive vendor that we are trying to replace, while ignoring the response of the JAS board, where he might have learned the truth, had he truly been interested.

        But – WHY would he do this? The answer is obvious – Mr. Trayer, in addition to being a (disgruntled-???) former school board employee, is also a political activist who worked diligently in 2007 for those who uniformly LOST the last elections, whether they were candidates for Supervisor or for the School Board.

        This year is another election year – so the smears have already started. Is this a surprise? Not really. It’s simply politics.

        Am I upset? Yes – because now, more than ever, if we – the residents of Clarke County – are to come out of this “Great Recession” with any hope of financial stability and prospects for a better near-term future, it is vital that we NOT engage in senseless and twisted accusations, smears or other types of negative attacks that serve no useful purpose.

        It CANNOT be politics as usual. The stakes are too great.

        We MUST work together, if we are to protect not only our students and educational achievements, but our other county resources – sheriff’s dept., social services, treasurer’s office, and the many other services that are ALL hurting deeply right now. We are all in this together.

        I would invite Mr. Trayer to stop the negative spin, and join one of the many volunteer committees that exist both at the county and school levels to help our county. Instead of negative attacks, he could use his many talents to help our county move forward and prosper even during these difficult times.

        Robina

        • dontaskme says:

          differing opinions are not equivalent to a smear. again, your “opinion” regarding the report at issue is only that as is Mr. Trayer’s. still wondering why the report (in your view “flawed”) was not made public except through this forum.

          • To – Dont ask me:

            The RDA report was made public a number of months ago to all concerned, and not “except through this forum” as you very erroneously state.

            If you want to know what is happening at the county and school board levels, you actually have to make the effort to not only inform yourselves of the facts that are readily available to anyone interested if they choose to ask, but also take time out of your schedules to come to the public meetings that deal extensively with these issues.

            The facts count. Don’t be listed in that category of “Don’t confuse me with the facts, my mind is made up”.

            Again, if Mr. Trayer really wants to help, instead to simply maligning the people who work so hard for this county, he should offer to volunteer his services.

            Robina

          • dontaskme says:

            Where? At the school board offices, county offices? Was it ever posted online at either the county or school web sites? Funny, isn’t the “faulty” report you are so incensed about part of the “facts” you think I might get confused about? Who is “all concerned”, the school board or other county officials? Why are you intent on hiding information unless I or any other citizen “choose to ask” (your words not mine). do you include the public, i.e. citizens of Clarke County, as “all concerned”? I do, but judging from the tone of your responses, I am not sure you do. Oh, and don’t be listed in the category of “it’s my way or the highway”, or better yet “trust me I am your elected representative I know all and what is best for you”.

            Don T. Askme

          • wow indeed says:

            “instead to simply maligning the people who work so hard for this county, he should offer to volunteer his services.”

            This coming from Robina? Irony anyone….? If this report had come out 5 years ago Robina would have been all over it.

          • Tony Parrott says:

            Wish I had seen this sooner.
            Ironic indeed, I tried to volunteer for the finance committee a few years ago and was told by Robina that wasn’t possible. Something about precedence with the BOS in not allowing community members on the finance committee. Personally I believe Phil is an outstanding bean counter and would be an asset to the SB if he were on their finance committee.

            Also ironic that someone with a long history of activism against the schools would have a problem with a community activist. Funny how the shoe ends up on the other foot.

            Finally it is interesting to me that the BOS knowing how tight the SB budget was going to be decided to only allocate ½ of the surplus (from cuts) back to the schools and use the rest to pay down debt. If the other half was allocated to the SB this year the budget would just about be balanced, correct?

          • wonderinginwp says:

            “Again,if Mr. Trayer really wants to help, instead to simply maligning the people who so hard for this county, he should offer to volunteer his services. Robina”

            “OK, Robina. I volunteer for the School Finance Committee.” Phil Trayer

            So Ms. Bouffault, are you going to nominate/recommend Mr. Trayer to your fellow school board members for membership on the Finance Committee at the next school board meeting? Or, is this just a sample of the “election year” rhetoric to come?

        • Phil Trayer says:

          Okay Robina. I volunteer for the School Finance Committee.

    • Debacle Watcher says:

      Whenever this school board member becomes incensed to the point of casting aspersions on others, we know an exposed nerve has been agitated. But then again, she has consistently cast aspersions on those that call her to task or simply disagree with her obtuse view. She certainly appears to have many exposed nerves. Hmm?

    • Interested bysitter says:

      Yet, you seem perfectly willing to smear a “disgruntled former employee” on here whilst sidestepping the opportunity to correct any misinformation. This whole initial post by Mr. Trayer is clearly labeled a letter to the editor; thus, it is his opinion, based on the research he did.

      The facts he cites are not new; indeed, Dr. Murphy and other department heads have roundly bemoaned the poor software used by JAS to maintain books. This has resulted in nearly $1 million in unspent carryover for the schools…an amount never discredited by you in various public meetings. The Supervisors, before giving their approval to the use of these carryover funds, mandated that $500K be set aside for school construction. If there was no nearly-$1-million carryover amount, why did the BoS dither so?

      It is frustrating for him, and for me, and agood deal of others to continuously hear of the need to slash positions and such, yet then see such carryover suddenly materialize and then be argued over whether or not it should be spent.

      Yes, this vendor is biased, and has sold CC a junk system…not unheard of in this county known as much for its penchant to “buy on the cheap” as for its bucolic beauty.

      For you to do the very thing you profess to not want to see – smear someone, it seriously undercuts any argument you might attempt to make, however sane or rational it might have been.

  5. Mr Mister says:

    Frankly, I tend not to believe anyone associated with the last school Board. It seemed they had an agenda. I truely believe that Robina has the best interest for the school and the kids. Like her person or not, she does have her facts. It’s a good thing she comes here to clarify. Listen to both sides, then decide for yourself.

  6. Mimi Stein says:

    I would have thought this was the job of the auditors and not the software vendor. If reporting is in such disarray as RDA suggests, why is the auditor signing off on the school system’s books every year?

  7. Robina – your silence in response to Mr. Trayer is deafening….

  8. No, silence is simply the fact that yesterday, being in more than one meeting for the schools, I did not look at the CDN site.

    Mr. Trayer’s offer is a very cynical one. He, as ex-financial coordinator, is fully aware of the fact that as a non-elected citizen, he is not eligible for the finance committee. School board members, (and Supervisors) are bound by an oath to respect their fiduciary duty re the budgets, and are legally liable (misdemeanor or felony depending upon the severity) should they in any way misuse taxpayers funds. Non-elected private citizens are not. For this reason, only SB members serve on this particular committee.

    In 2008, prior to his resignation, Mr. Trayer’s draft budget proposal was very off the mark (extremely inflated, although fully aware of our budget limitations), and had to be entirely re-done prior to submission to the Supervisors that spring. His offer just might be more oriented towards trying to obtain better financial conditions for his wife, who is still a school employee.

    Mr. Trayer is in fact criticizing the financial IT software structure put into place by RDA and the county’s handling of it, so if he truly does have any such knowledge and skills, he could be very helpful if he made positive suggestions as to how we can better our current financial software infra-structure, to be better adapted to our needs. With our current very tight budgets, all free help is welcomed. I’m sure the JAS would be delighted to send him a copy of the GFOA report when received, for his recommendations.

    But somehow I feel that all of this is politically motivated. Otherwise he wouldn’t have waited 3 years until an election year, to help the school system.

    RRB

    • You have yet to answer the following questions noted above:

      “Where? At the school board offices, county offices? Was it ever posted online at either the county or school web sites? Funny, isn’t the “faulty” report you are so incensed about part of the “facts” you think I might get confused about? Who is “all concerned”, the school board or other county officials? Why are you intent on hiding information unless I or any other citizen “choose to ask” (your words not mine). do you include the public, i.e. citizens of Clarke County, as “all concerned”? I do, but judging from the tone of your responses, I am not sure you do. Oh, and don’t be listed in the category of “it’s my way or the highway”, or better yet “trust me I am your elected representative I know all and what is best for you”.

      And for the record, I am not politically motivated at all, I just want some answers. I am “choosing to ask” YOU for the those answers since you opend the door in this forum. Answer, please, so as a citizen and voter in Clarke County I can make an informed choice on my own and NOT based on the OPINIONS and distillations of you and whoever else makes up “all concerned”.

      Don T. Askme

    • Phil Trayer says:

      “He, as ex-financial coordinator, is fully aware of the fact that as a non-elected citizen, he is not eligible for the finance committee.”

      Oh really?

      Robina, the CCPS School Board Finance Committee is set up under By – Law § 2 – 19 Committees of the School Board (see at:
      http://www.clarke.k12.va.us/154310528135854340/lib/154310528135854340/2_19_committees.pdf )

      In particular, look at Section B which states:

      “Each standing committee shall have two School Board members serving and such number of citizens as the School Board shall feel is appropriate.”

      This means by Clarke County School Board’s adopted By – Law, citizens can be on the Finance Committee. The underlying state statute is § 22.1 – 78 which says School Boards can make By – Laws and Regulations that determine how they would govern themselves. The good news is that By – Law § 2 – 19 Committees of the Clarke County School Board doesn’t conflict with any state code. Therefore, I am eligible.

      My offer to assist the Clarke County Public School Finance Committee is sincere. I offered to assist on the CCPS Finance Committee several years ago and my offer was ignored by you. So, I’m offering again, when can I start?

      P.S. You are to leave my wife out of this!

  9. My 2 Cents... says:

    If this lady gets re-elected again, my question is who in the heck is doing drugs in White Post???????????? Could it be that she loves seeing her name in publications daily? HMMMMMMMM????