The St. Mary Parish School Board ordered an audit of the school activity fund at Berwick Elementary School. With that came the sudden movement of the school’s principal to the central office, the promotion of the assistant principal and an unknown future for one secretary.
The audit, being performed by Darnall, Sikes, Gardes & Frederick, was commissioned during the board’s July 12 meeting with a letter dated July 1. It is due no later than Aug. 31.
It seeks to “provide reasonable assurance that Berwick Elementary is following the requirements of R.S. 17:414.3 School fund; management, expenditure, and accounting; duties of school principal; accounts for certain closed schools; committees; creation and authority; policies and the School Activity Funds Principles and Procedures Manual of the St. Mary Parish School Board.”
Under state law, such school fund accounts must be maintained as a single bank account on which checks may be drawn. Those checks must be signed by the principal and a second person from a list of approved signatories. At the June school board meeting, the board authorized signatories for the BES and J.A. Hernandez Elementary activity accounts.
The signatories at that time for BES were Principal Steve Russo, Assistant Principal Debbie Thompkins and secretary Penny Crappell. Superintendent Donald Aguillard said that the need for signatories to be approved usually occurs when there is a change in the management of the school.
Aguillard created a position at the Central Office Complex July 19 for Russo and promoted Thompkins to acting principal until the final audit report is received and the investigation is sorted out. Russo will be an instructional supervisor, in a position “commensurate with the principal job title,” Aguillard said.
Meanwhile, Crappell has been on medical leave since mid-May, according to the superintendent. A temporary secretary has been assigned to the school.
The Town of Berwick, where Crappell is a councilman, has been quiet on the issue.
The engagement letter states that should the auditor become aware of “errors, fraud, or illegal acts,” information immediately would be turned over to the state Legislative Auditor, local district attorney and/or any other appropriate law enforcement or regulatory agency.
The 16th Judicial District Attorney’s Office was notified and State Police Troop I was requested to investigate the matter July 23. While the finalized audit will not be available for several weeks, a preliminary audit report triggered the notification, Superintendent Donald Aguillard.
Specifically, the audit looks at bank statements and reconciliations from June 1, 2011, through May 31, 2012, as well as cash disbursements for the same time period. From this grouping, the auditor looks at:
—A random sample of 25 cash disbursements.
—All disbursements in which the check was written out to “cash.”
—All disbursements in which the check was written to employees in excess of $20.
—Any disbursement that appeared to be written to a related third-party or unfamiliar vendor.
Aguillard said the audit was triggered by a telephone call making allegations about financial practices regarding school activity funds. He said the school system chose three elementary schools at random, one in each maintenance district, to audit as a result of that call. The original audit was being done by the firm as a part of the school system’s regular auditing contract.
It was when problems crept up in the first audit that the engagement letter and a more thorough audit was initiated.
Audits of these accounts were being done at a rate of approximately two to four schools annually by Chief Financial Officer Alton Perry’s office. Additionally, an audit was triggered any time a principal changed at a school.
Now, Aguillard said, the school system intends to audit three schools annually by Perry’s office and an additional three by the auditing firm, resulting in every school in the system being audited over a rotating four-year period.