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RECORD-KEEPING BLAMED IN LUNCH-FUND LOSS

The amount of state and federal reimbursement that the Lackawanna School District has lost in its school lunch program cannot be determined because of inadequate record-keeping, an outside audit has concluded.

The district will hold a referendum Nov. 20 to authorize covering a $60,000 shortfall in the school lunch account.

"It has been discovered that breakfast and lunch meal counts claimed for reimbursement have not been accurate nor based upon adequate underlying support," the accounting firm Lumsden & McCormick reported to the School Board.

Lumsden said district management alerted auditors that state and federal reimbursements for the lunch program are down.

"Federal and state aid revenue had declined significantly over the prior year," the audit said. "Since the economic status or the number of pupils living within the district has not changed, and our test of applications showed no major shift of those eligible for free and reduced-price lunches, another cause was sought."

The auditors were stymied by the lack of records or poorly maintained records.

"The net result appears to be a loss," auditors told the board. "The exact amount of the loss cannot be quantified."

The School Board, without public comment, approved the audit report this week. It was part of an omnibus vote that included 14 other matters, ranging from travel requests to research materials for a lawyer. There was no discussion at the board meeting as members agreed to send the information to the state Education Department.

Board member Robert Lohr, who took office in July, made the audit available publicly. He said provisional cafeteria manager Frank Gable notified district administrators of a possible problem, and the board requested the audit.

Lohr said, "The administration asked for an audit because we weren't able to approve the actual number of meals being generated. Previous practice may not have been proper."

Superintendent Paul Hashem and Sameh Mastry, senior accountant, did not respond to requests for comments on the audit.

The audit calls on district management to prevent future losses by consistently monitoring and verifying cafeteria record-keeping. It also urges worker training.

"All cafeteria personnel should also be trained in the proper techniques of gathering meal counts and informed of their individual responsibility," the audit said.

Anne Wlodarczyk, a parent and frequent critic of the lunch program and Gable, asked at a board meeting earlier this year whether poor records cost the program money.

Wlodarczyk speculated that her earlier questions finally prompted administrators and the board to act.

"Where is the food going?" she asked. "Where is our money going? Mr. Gable's job is to make sure these things are done correctly."

Gable was among 21 candidates who applied to take a civil service test last week for the cafeteria manager position.

The Lumsden & McCormick audit describes the lunch program problem as a "reportable condition" -- a significant deficiency that could adversely affect the district's ability to handle financial data.

e-mail: mhammersley@buffnews.com

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