Worcester School System To Seek Audit Waiver

NEWARK – The Worcester County Board of Education is seeking support from its commissioners and delegates to approve a legislative audit waiver that could save the school system hours of time.

Chief Financial Operator Vince Tolbert brought the proposed waiver before the board members in Tuesday’s meeting, where they all agreed to support the request.

The county has until Nov. 1 to submit the waiver request for fiscal year 2017.

The state’s Office of Legislative Audits subjects each county school system to the audit every six years, Tolbert says.

If the state approves the waiver request, the county will not be subject to a waiver for six more years.

Tolbert says this could save school system employees 1,200 hours in audit assistance, bringing their focus back to their primary tasks.

The state legislature approved the audit in 2004, after two school systems ran an extensive deficit two years prior.

Since then, Worcester County has spent an average of 12 to 18 months on each legislative audit, Tolbert said.

“School systems are one of the most audited systems that I know of, outside of banks,” Tolbert said.

The Board of Education is subject to numerous audits on an annual, bi-annual and tri-annual basis.

“It is like everything else,” Board member Sara Thompson said. “You are not going to get a perfectly clean audit.”

The school system has faced recommendations from auditors in the past, Tolbert says. But the school system lacks the accountants needed to get things perfect.

“Not unless you want to hire two or three more accountants, we don’t have the huge staff,” Tolbert says.

Although the school system has never encountered fraud or theft, School Superintendent Dr. Jerry Wilson says the audit could provide the public with the information they want, but at a cost to the school system employees.

“Why would you want to turn down the opportunity to have someone come in and look at your school operations and tell you what they are finding?” Wilson said. “But I also believe that it is a real strain on the school system to have to put our staff into these circumstances.”

Tolbert told the members he could not find any drawbacks to the waiver, but says the reason audits are put in place is to keep the school system accountable.

Board member Robert Rothermel told Wilson the school system is good at remaining transparent.

“Too often we have to cater to outside forces looking to us for audits,” Rothermel said. “”We can probably put the audits we have on the table and it would reach the ceiling on an annual basis.”

Rothermel continued to say audits already in place from the local, state and federal level will keep the public informed.

“We are so transparent that it is crazy sometimes,” Rothermel told the board. “I hate the idea of not giving the public an opportunity for something like this, but it is something that we can ask for and see if we get it. If we don’t get the waiver, then we’ll go through the process.”

According to Tolbert, the county school system received $18.8 million, less than one percent, of the state’s $5 billion funding in 2015.

Board members at the meeting agreed that receiving the waiver would be validation that the school system has an upstanding financial record.

“If there is a county that is worthy of (the waiver), I think it is Worcester County,” Wilson said.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.