After agreeing it is time to take a hard look at how school officials are handling public funds, Tiverton Town Council members voted Monday to hire an accounting firm to conduct a forensic audit of …
After agreeing it is time to take a hard look at how school officials are handling public funds, Tiverton Town Council members voted Monday to hire an accounting firm to conduct a forensic audit of the school district’s financial records.
Prior to the vote, Council Vice President Mike Burk described the purpose of a forensic audit, noting it is far more detailed than a standard audit.
“It looks into specific expenditures almost invoice by invoice and line by line to see if they are in accordance with policies and procedures around revenue, spending and purchasing guidelines.”
Burk and Council President Denise deMedeiros have publicly criticized school officials in the past for what they said was a lax approach in following established purchasing rules and guidelines, specifically in terms of bidding for some products or services and approval of certain contracts.
“We’ve addressed some practices around purchasing that I am certainly not happy with and others are not happy with,” said Burk. He added that the council’s intent was “not to point fingers at the school committee and the superintendent,” while noting that complaints about the school district’s budgetary practices have also surfaced in the community.
“I’m not going to say what the rumors are ... it’s not a fact until they are proven. That’s part of what an audit can do, it can prove or disprove some rumors.”
Burk and deMedeiros also referred to what they said was the council’s “greater fiduciary responsibility” following voters’ approval last November of a change in the town charter that eliminated the need for a Financial Town Referendum (FTR) if the only budget to be considered is the one put forth by the town council.
“Because of charter changes…we have the responsibility to bring forth a budget that we have confidence in,” said deMedeiros.
School Department Revolving Fund
The council approved an amendment to the town ordinance that will result in the establishment of a restricted revolving fund for school district capital expenditures. This means that reimbursements from the state Department of Education (RIDE) or other agencies would go directly into the revolving fund rather than the general fund. The reimbursements could then be directed to other school-related capital projects, contingent on council approval.
Districts are often reimbursed by RIDE in amounts ranging from 30 to 40 percent or more of the cost of capital expenditures, particularly if projects are related to health and safety initiatives in the schools.