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Schools pass audit and get advice on preventing MRSA infection

An auditor gave the Niagara Falls School District a clean bill of fiscal heath Thursday, and a doctor told the city School Board that children can stay clear of a highly publicized, antibiotic-resistant staphylococcus germ by washing their hands with soap and water.

Stephen L. Kling, an accountant whose firm audited the district for 2006-07 school year, said the audit showed the district finance office staff handled money in accordance with generally accepted accounting standards. No irregularities were found.

At the end of the 2006-07 school year, Kling said the district was left with a surplus of $1.6 million, which is allowed under state law.

He said the district legally could keep up to 2 percent -- $2.2 million -- of its general fund budget in reserve, but ended up saving 1.44 percent of the $111 million spending package.

"It's a healthy fund balance to carry into the school year," Kling said.

But the savings came from past surpluses.

Kling said the district actually recorded a "planned $800,000 deficit," noting the fund balance was carried over from previous budgets.

Board Audit Committee Chairman Christopher Brown, a certified public accountant, said the deficit was caused by spending in a variety of programs, which the board was aware would occur and had planned on using previous fund balance money to cover those costs.

"I was satisfied with the audit report," Brown said. "They gave us no indication there was anything irregular" in the way district staff watches over public money.

In a report on the matter of the highly-publicized methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infections, Dr. Michael Beecher, the district's school physician, said parents and children have little to fear.

"CA-MRSA [infection] is not easily spread in the school setting. Infections are usually mild, limited to the surface of the skin and can be treated with proper hygiene and antibiotics. In rare cases, if left untreated or not recognized early, it can be difficult to treat."

The solution is simple, the doctor said.

"Proper hygiene is the key to prevention," since it "is almost always spread through direct contact and not through the air . . . Washing hands frequently with soap and water, something everyone should always do; the avoidance of sharing personal items like towels; reporting any suspicious skin sore or boil to your [doctor] or school nurse immediately; showering after athletics; and cleaning gear before and after use are all important means of prevention," Beecher said.

The staph infection is "for the most part, preventable and treatable" just by taking these precautions, he said.

If people have any questions, Beecher said he just moved his office into Niagara Falls High School and can be consulted there. He said school nurses at any district location also can answer questions.

"Just wash your hands and do what your mom's been telling you to do for years," said Deputy School Superintendent Cynthia A. Bianco.

She said the district is sending parents a letter from Beecher on the issue next week along with their childrens' report cards.


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