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Jul 9, 2019 3:13 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

State Audit Finds Faults With East Quogue School District's Purchasing Policy

The East Quogue Elementary School. VALERIE GORDON
Jul 10, 2019 10:12 AM

In a recent audit of the East Quogue School District, regulators from State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office said they found several inconsistencies with the district’s purchasing policy.

After tracking the elementary school’s procurement history from July 1, 2016, to April 30, 2018, the auditors released a report in which they analyzed 2,165 non-payroll claims, totaling $25.7 million.

Of those purchases, regulators found 301 claims, totaling more than $6.1 million, that were paid for and dispersed before they received School Board approval—a violation of New York State Education law, as well as district policy.

The law requires that school boards audit and approve all claims before they are paid, to control expenditures and ensure competitive pricing and that adequate funds are available. The district’s policy must follow that law.

Additionally, according to the audit, the district’s part-time claims auditor—acting on behalf of the Board of Education and responsible for examining and approving claims—did not sign warrants for 70 claims, totaling $988,677.

A warrant lists the name of the person requesting the goods or services—such as a teacher or staff member—and the amount requested.

Under state law, the auditor is required to sign the warrant, which is then delivered to the district’s treasurer—in this case, Marie Bracken—for processing.

“Before that check is sent, in a perfect world, an internal claims auditor should sign off on that,” East Quogue Superintendent Robert Long said. However, he stressed that immediate needs sometimes arise within the district: “It’s always important to keep the lights on and the heat on.”

For example, he pointed to three claims, totaling $35,171, that were identified in the state audit as having been paid prior to being approved. Those purchases were made to an unidentified vendor for heating, ventilation and air conditioning services, according to the audit report.

However, the state regulators stressed that “routinely paying claims without sufficient documentation circumvents internal controls and weakens procurement and budget control process.”

It continued: “Without a signed warrant, the treasurer is not authorized to pay the claims, and there is an increased risk that checks can be disbursed for inappropriate purposes and not be detected in a timely manner.”

However, the state auditors added that that was not the case at East Quogue, noting that all of the claims were for “reasonable” and “appropriate” purchases.

Regardless, Mr. Long said that the district has already taken steps to resolve the flagged inconsistencies.

At last month’s Board of Education meeting, the district hired Cerini & Associates, a Bohemia-based auditing firm, to act as the district’s internal claims auditor for the 2019-20 school year.

Prior to that, the district’s full-time secretary, Heather Nicholson, had assumed the position on July 1, 2018, filling the vacancy left by the district’s previous part-time claims auditor, whom Mr. Long declined to identify.

In a response to the state audit report, dated, May 6, 2019, Mr. Long wrote, “That deficiency has been cured.”

During the upcoming school year, he said that the recently hired firm will complete quarterly audits for the district—following recommendations laid out in the state audit report.

“We’re being beyond proactive,” Mr. Long said. “We want our financial practices to be as sound as humanly possible.”

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