Financial oversight examined

School Board takes extra steps to prevent fiscal disaster

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Steamboat Springs School Board members are revising the district's asset-protection policy in an effort to increase fiscal oversight and prevent scandals such as the ones plaguing the St. Vrain Valley and Elizabeth school districts.

School Board member Pat Gleason recently expressed concern over provisions in the policy that allow the district superintendent to authorize -- without School Board approval -- expenditures up to $70,000.

Fellow board members echoed Gleason's concern, and after receiving counsel from school district attorney Chris Gdowski, they agreed unauthorized expenses should not exceed $25,000. Bondi and Co., the financial auditing company used by the district, also recommended changing the policy.

The revised policy, which the School Board will vote to accept at Monday's meeting, is intended not only to prevent financial mismanagement but also to increase the board's role in district finances, thereby decreasing the chance of illegal expenditures and scandals.

School officials in the Elizabeth School District are facing 27 counts of theft, embezzlement, forgery and other charges for their roles in a financial scandal, and a lack of financial oversight is blamed for a $14 million shortfall in the St. Vrain Valley School District.

"There are now board members in the state of Colorado being charged with criminal conduct for not having proper oversight, and I don't want to be in that position," Gleason said at Monday's study session.

Slashing the limit from $70,000 to $25,000 could create problems for some district officials, particularly those who may need to allocate large amounts of money on relatively short notice, Facilities Director Rick Denney said Monday.

A leaky roof or an broken piece of critical equipment are examples of problems that need to be addressed immediately and may well involve purchasing goods or services that exceed the funding limit.

The School Board has included an exception to the $25,000 limit that will allow the superintendent to authorize the use of funds in excess of $25,000 if inefficiencies in time or resources would result from awaiting board approval.

In such a case, the superintendent would be expected to alert the School Board at its next regularly scheduled meeting.

The revised policy, if approved by the board Monday, makes sense for the School Board, Superintendent Donna Howell said.

"Given the situations that have occurred (in other school districts) it's prudent for the board to look at financial oversight," she said. "I don't believe the policy will be very cumbersome. I've operated with a limit that was less than $25,000."


-- To reach Brent Boyer call 871-4234

or e-mail bboyer@steamboatpilot.com

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