Audit shows healthy numbers

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By Gabriel Vasquez

The financial management at Los Alamos Public Schools has significantly improved, according to audit results released Tuesday.

Despite minor flaws, LAPS bookkeeping practices have become “healthy” since the arrival of a new financial management staff, said Jeff McWhorter, chief auditor of the Accounting and Consulting Group.

McWhorter presented the results of the fiscal year 2006-2007 audit report to LAPS board members Tuesday.

“There are a lot of challenges to running a school,” McWhorter said. “We were able to satisfy ourselves that financial statements were reported fairly in all material respects.”

He added that the financial management team currently in place was diligent and had responded promptly to all the requests of the auditing team.

The only problems reported by McWhorter were small deficiencies in the inventory of equipment, deposits not being made in a timely manner and a statement review policy by “internal control” that was not aggressive enough.

“Management has taken actions to correct this,” McWhorter said. “But (the deficiencies) are not egregious enough to qualify the opinion.”

A qualified opinion, in audit speak, refers to two possible situations that do not comply with generally accepted accounting principles.

In one situation, one or more areas of a financial statement can be misstated but not affect the credibility of the financial report as a whole. The other instance occurs when the auditor is not able to audit one or more of the financial statements, such as the inventory of goods.

McWhorter said that out a random sampling of 40 LAPS deposits, 12 were deposited late. He mentioned, however, that in his experience auditing other school districts in New Mexico, late deposits were one of the most common problems he sees.

“We have taken a lot of steps to rectify these problems,” said John Wolfe, LAPS director of business services. “We’ve been trying to concentrate on that and some additional things. We’ve been working on our internal controls and other procedures.”

Overall, McWhorter said that the audit was satisfactory and found no significant problems. He mentioned the previous management team perhaps lacked the “skill-set” that the new one now has.

“The highlight should be, that in terms of the audit, there was no indication of abuse, mismanagement, or fraud,” he said. “You’re financially healthy, and there are no major compliance issues with federal funding.”

Although the board was pleased with the outcome, it voted during its May 22 session to contract a new auditing firm because the audit came later then expected. Griego Professional Services was chosen to review the district’s finances in the future.

Wolfe, who took over as director of business services in July 2007, thanked and credited his management team for the improvement, singling out comptroller Sona Pavlikova for helping improve the district’s bookkeeping. She has been at her position since May 2007.

McWhorter also noted that the positive efforts being put forth by the district not only reflected in the improvement of bookkeeping, but also in the district’s dedication to its students, made evident by the presentations he witnessed by LAHS students and recent science fair winners Caroline Wurden and Alex Kendrick.

At the meeting, Wurden gave a brief presentation of her project, “Great Balls of Fire,” which recreates the effects of ball lightning in a controlled environment.

For her project, she won first place and best of show in the physics division of regional and state competitions, and first in physics at the international level. She received $8,000 in cash, a new computer and an asteroid named after her from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Kendrick received first place in engineering regionals and second in state for his efforts in creating an underground radio designed to improve the rescue time of trapped miners and lost cavers.