Written by The Business Journal Staff
The 16th largest school district in the state, Johnston said Clovis Unified has a budget that fluctuates between $560 million and $720 million, depending on construction projects.
District officials said the accomplishment is rare, as most districts have a handful of minor findings in regard to associated student body (ASB) funds and average daily attendance (ADA).
“Depending on the size of the school district you look at, they can have anywhere from one to seven to 15 findings,” said Michael Johnston, associate superintendent of administrative services for CUSD. “I think it is pretty uncommon that a school district is actually able to have a clean audit.”
“When you look at our adopted budget, it’s around $520 million when you don’t include the construction projects, and that increases as we roll over projects we didn’t complete, so we’re pushing $600-$700 million in any given year how much our total expenditures are,” Johnston said.
With a sizeable budget and funds constantly coming in and going out of the district, earning a clean audit is rare since, while some audit findings can be large-scale, a finding can be as simple as an administrative assistant forgetting to bring ASB funds to the bank within 48 hours.
“If you have money from fundraising and you get it on Monday and it isn’t deposited until Thursday, that right there is a finding; It can be as simple as that,” Communication Director Kelly Avants said.
Prior to the district’s current findings-free streak, Johnston said ASB-related findings were the most common during a CUSD audit.
“When I got here in 2002, the audit findings we had were in regards to student body funds — cash not deposited or maybe cash was sitting around and wasn’t deposited timely,” Johnston said. “We looked at our standard operating procedures and started to address the different types of findings we had within ASB. ASB findings are ones I always think are hard to avoid in an audit report because there are a lot of transactions happening, and it’s not volumes and volumes of money where you can dedicate time and resources to manage.”
To address frequent ASB findings, CUSD’s budget and finance department now has an employee who oversees ASB specifically and performs internal auditing. While the internal control has clearly made a difference, officials said it’s a team effort.
“We have almost 6,000 employees in this district and when you look at it, out finances touch the hands of many, whether it is the food service person at Clovis North taking lunch money or the teacher taking the fundraising check or the office manager running their budget or the curriculum and instruction team managing a grant,” Avants said.
“There are so many single points of potential failure, honestly, and the work and effort this team has made over the past five or 10 years has been great. It really does require that ownership down to the classroom teacher and school site and clerical employee.”
Susan Rutledge, the director of budget and finance, said having so many long-standing employees across the board who know the process makes internal auditing easier to manage.
“The longevity of our employees really helps with our process and internal controls,” Rutledge said. “The budget, finance, payroll and accounting departments have a staff of 25 people, but they don’t all do auditing and analyzing.
We probably have a team of 10 who are constantly looking at budgets and making sure all spending is in line, so we rely on all our employees to do their part.”
Michael Clear, assistant superintendent of business services, said communication from the top down has been key.
“Clovis Unified, I think, is unique in several ways,” Clear said. “We hire people who really know their stuff and can do the job. It’s that and communication, which is certainly key. There is a lot of communication, and its not just this department or that department — it is different departments coming together and, depending on the topic, every department may be involved in one meeting. So there is communication constantly to make sure we are being as efficient as we can be as we continue to grow.”
In addition to the recent series of clean audits, Clovis Unified has been recognized 18 years running with the Association of School Business Officials (ASBO) International’s Meritorious Budget Award.