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School again fails bookkeeping audit

Much of the problem at Hillsborough High was attributed to a bookkeeper's leave.

By SARAH SCHWEITZER

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 8, 2000


TAMPA -- For the fifth consecutive year, Hillsborough High School's financial record-keeping has been deemed unsatisfactory by the school district's internal auditing department.

Hillsborough was the only high school in the district this year to receive the auditing department's lowest ranking, which indicates inefficient operations and inadequate bookkeeping practices.

Five of the district's 19 high schools earned exemplary ratings and 12 earned satisfactory ratings. Tampa Bay Technical High School is expected to learn the results of its audit later this school year.

The unsatisfactory finding does not mean penalties will be levied against Hillsborough High, but rather that the district will keep a close eye on the school's finances and offer guidance to its bookkeeper and other money handlers.

"It's similar to getting a "D' on their report card," said Michelle Crouse, the director of internal auditing. "They now become the center of attention."

Crouse said the unsatisfactory finding owed in large part to the four-month leave that the school's bookkeeper took in the middle of the school year. A part-time bookkeeper could not be found to fill in, Crouse said.

"It would have been almost impossible to function properly," Crouse said.

Among the specific findings, the audit noted that poor record-keeping and bad organization had resulted in financial losses from a number of school activities. Three fundraisers, the audit noted, had cost the school more than $1,000 while the school store showed a $390 loss. Poor planning, the audit noted, had left 81 unsold yearbooks, resulting in a revenue loss for the school.

The audit said the school's financial failings could be righted with better record maintenance, improved planning and greater oversight of student activities.

Hillsborough High School has been something of a revolving door for bookkeepers, and administrators, in recent years. "There's been a lot of transition there. No one has been there long enough to make an impact," Crouse said.

In 1997, a school district investigation found that the school's principal and assistant principal used school accounts to cash personal checks and took improper loans and reimbursements totaling $8,715.

Both retired shortly after auditors questioned them about financial mismanagement dating to November 1996, but later said their retirements were unconnected to the investigation, which began after a routine audit raised questions.

Last year, three schools earned unsatisfactory ratings by the auditors: Hillsborough, Tampa Bay Technical High School and Chamberlain High School. This year Chamberlain earned a satisfactory rating.

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