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Wilson school superintendent criticizes state audit

The Wilson Central School District has lashed out against a state audit that criticized the district’s management of its reserve accounts and bus fuel.

“The district disagrees with the opinions and inflammatory conclusions of the auditors that only serve to incite the general reader,” Superintendent Michael S. Wendt stated in the district’s official reply to the audit.

He said that “unrealistic conclusions” were drawn by the auditors, and he questioned their methodology, which was defended by the state.

Wendt also noted that at no time does the audit find that the district breached reserve or fund-balance statutes.

“Rather, the report chooses to smear the district with the vague opinion of ‘four reserves, with balances totaling $7.3 million, appear to be overfunded,’ ” Wendt wrote. It is “just an opinion” that the reserves are overfunded, he said.

Wendt said that continuing unfunded mandates such as teacher evaluations and increased minimum wage need to be funded, and that the district was coping with reduced state aid at the time the audit examined.

“The ‘tax cap’ is a great sound bite, but does little to pay for these mandates,” Wendt wrote.

He also said that two initiatives from the State Comptroller’s Office seem to compete: the audit, which talks of overfunding reserve accounts, and the fiscal stress monitoring system, which gave the district a lower rating due to the spending of “the very same funds the audit and auditor opines that we deplete/spend in an even ‘more aggressive fashion.’ ”

“Is the (State Comptroller’s Office) really suggesting running the district into financial stress by following the recommendations of the auditors and audit report?” he wrote, adding that the School Board “does not think that this is a good idea and rejects the shortsighted analysis.”

The audit, which looked at the period from July 1, 2011, through Dec. 22, 2015, found that the School Board did not properly manage financial reserves or follow the district’s policies and regulations on reserve accounts. As of June 30, 2015, the district had seven reserve accounts totaling about $11 million, the state found. The audit found that four reserves, with a total of $7.3 million, appeared to be overfunded, and it said the district did not properly use its debt reserve account.

The audit recommended that the district document the purpose of each reserve, review them annually to determine if the reserves are necessary and reasonable amounts, and use the money in the debt reserve to pay related debt.

The district said that it does adhere to statutes and reviews and that it addresses the reserves at least annually and will continue to do so.

The district also did not provide appropriate oversight of fuel that was delivered to its transportation contractor, and cannot be sure that all of the fuel purchased by the district was used by the district.

Wilson pays for the fuel for district transportation, which is delivered directly to the company’s fuel tank. Another district has a similar arrangement, and the fuel for both districts is commingled in the same tank.

The contractor does not have fuel and mileage information, but bills each district on formula-based estimated miles. The audit found that the method appears reasonable but that the procedure to resolve inequity of fuel use was confusing. The audit said the district may have bought 3,800 gallons of gas more than it should have.

The audit recommended formally documenting the process, establishing policies to ensure that there are adequate controls, and reviewing fuel usage on an annual basis.

The district said that it would call for a meeting to discuss the issue and will establish control measures.