Auditors criticize Buford schools’ financial records

Buford’s small city school system came through the worst of the economic downturn with no long-term debt and no cuts to the school year or to teacher contracts. But its financial records are a mess, state auditors say.

In a new report, state auditors found widespread bookkeeping problems in the north Gwinnett school district of 3,860 students — including balance sheets that were off by millions of dollars.

In some cases, problems had been identified in previous audits and not corrected, the auditors said.

In fiscal 2012, the year that was the subject of the audit, the district had to use $292,842 in local money to cover past deficits in special education and other federal programs, auditors found.

They concluded that the district either overspent its federal grants or failed to timely seek reimbursements. They also noted that the district hadn’t been reconciling spending for its federal programs on a yearly basis.

“Buford (City Schools) has very little debt and is financially sound,” said Claire Arnold, a certified public accountant who examines school systems’ books at the state Department of Audits. “But their accounting records have issues and have had them for many years. For 2012, the information they gave us to audit was incomplete and had many errors.”

Geye Hamby, superintendent of Buford City School, dismissed the audit findings.

“Those folks have to find something to talk about,” Hamby said.

State auditors want the district to expand its finance department from two employees to 10 — a luxury the district can’t afford and doesn’t need, Hamby said. With five times its current financial staff, the district would have employees who would “sit around and twiddle their thumbs, except when the auditors come through,” he said.

Hamby pointed out that the district has no long-term debt and has kept the school year at 180 days and teacher contracts at 190 days, something few districts can claim.

But at the state Department of Education, the Buford system is one of 15 — including DeKalb and Dougherty — that have been flagged as at “high risk” for financial vulnerability, said Lou Byars, the DOE’s director of financial review.

DOE officials also have told their federal program managers need to take a “closer look” at programs in these districts, Byars said.

Hamby said he was surprised to hear that his district had been flagged by DOE. “That’s the first I’ve heard of that,” he said

Auditors said Buford school officials had misstated, and corrected at their urging, the district’s financial picture on several fronts.

For instance, they said the district had:

  • underestimated its assets by about $1.2 million;
  • overstated its liabilities by $4 million;
  • overstated its expenses by $4.5 million;
  • and underestimated its net assets by $7.3 million.

The district also could not provide evidence that someone review and/or approves bank reconciliations, the auditors said.

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