by Johannes Brann
Held in the evening of Thursday, May 18 – the last day of the 2022-2023 school year – the Northeast Vernon County R-1 School Board looked backwards as, at last, they were able to approve audits for the 2021-2022 school year and look ahead as they hired a high school principal for the coming 2023-2024 school year.
“I’m glad to have the regular and Single Audit complete and that both were ‘clean’ audits, and that we’ve hired a new principal who’s coming aboard July 15,” remarked Superintendent Chris Holcomb on Friday morning.
That new principal is Dr. John Lawrence, who is completing two years as superintendent of the Everton R-III School District. He holds an earned doctorate in Educational Leadership from Wichita State University. He served for about 30 years as a teacher and administrator in Kansas before serving three years as Middle School Principal for the Diamond R-IV School District. Dr. Lawrence is married to his college sweetheart, Janea, of 37 years (this month) and together have three adult children.
The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) considers the school year to begin July 1 and end on the thirtieth of June, the following calendar year. DESE requires each public school district to hire a suitably accredited firm to perform an audit on the financial records and practices of the district for the previous school year. Failure to submit an audit by the end of December, following a school year, results in DESE withholding that district’s monthly per-pupil state tuition payments until that audit is performed, reviewed and approved by the district’s school board and submitted to the state.
“Yes, that’s right. We’ve not received any monthly state tuition payments since December of 2022; we’ve been living off the property tax money we received in January and watching our spending carefully,” noted Holcomb.
And why wasn’t the audit performed and submitted on time?
“I came on board last summer but my predecessor was so overwhelmed with getting the new metal pitched roofs on both schools and getting the new HVAC (heating, ventilation, air-conditioning) systems installed and working, that he had no time to get the district’s records completed and submitted,” explained Holcomb.
He added that he was unfamiliar with the accounting software and record keeping system used at NEVC and so he had his predecessor, Charles Naas, come back several times to complete the records for that fiscal year.
“And if that wasn’t enough, we actually had to get ready for two audits to be performed”, said Holcomb.
Besides the regular audit, whenever an entity – public or private – receives over $750,000 of federal funds in a single fiscal year, a separate audit – using different accounting rules – must be performed.
The superintendent explained, “In the third and final round of Covid-19 funds from the federal government, passed onto us through DESE, we received $391,000 and that, combined with our federal grants for special education, reading, Safe and Drug Free Schools, Rural Education, breakfast and lunch, all totaled over $838,000. Anything over $750,000 means you have to have a second or what the federal government calls a ‘Single Audit’.”
It is called a Single Audit because it is one audit covering all of a recipient’s federal grants. While there is much overlap, a federal audit does utilize some different rules and financial tests than DESE requires for a district’s regular annual audit.
With copies of the audit in front of each board member, Auditor Renda Armstrong from the accounting firm of DSWA read from its first page.
“‘In our opinion, the financial statements referred to above present fairly, in all material respects, the respective modified cash basis financial position of the governmental activities and each major fund of the District as of June 30, 2022 of the audit.’ This means for both the regular and Single Audit, it’s a clean audit on a modified cash basis,” said Armstrong.
For that fiscal year, the district had revenues of just under $2.9 million and expenditures of $3.2 million. Because financing for the HVAC project did not close until after June 30, 2022, the audit shows a change in fund balances (a deficit spending) of $305,223 for the year.
“Largely because of your size and funding, this district usually doesn’t have much in the way of capital projects but as this audit shows, last school year you had capital projects totaling $469,302. Mostly this was the two HVAC projects,” explained Armstrong.
The auditor reviewed several recommendation of various practices including the districts failure to post the district’s budget on its website for public review and a failure to designate a compliance officer for Sunshine Law requests. his district
On hand for the May regular meeting were board members David Bruce, Heather Brown, Connie Gerster, Scott Pritchett, Mike Newman and Heath Brown; board member Deland Prough was unable to attend. Also in attendance were Elementary Principal Kendall Ogburn, High School Principal Josh Smith and Superintendent Chris Holcomb.
In other business, with three students having received top honors at the state level, the board adopted a resolution on a vote of 6-0, authorizing the high school’s family and consumer sciences teacher, Mrs. Laurie Bybee, along with three students to travel and participate in the national competition of the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) to be held in Denver over the July 4 holiday. The group will travel in a school mini-van.
On a similar vote, the board declared the old non-working scoreboard to be surplus property and sold for $50.
The “Get the Lead Out of School Drinking Water Act” was signed into law on June 30, 2022. Beginning with the 2023-2024 school year and for each subsequent school year, every school must test and only make available, drinking water with a lead concentration below five parts per billion (5 ppb). Two bids for testing had been received and presented. A motion to accept the bid of $3,695 from Axiom Service Professionals of Kansas City was approved on a vote of 6-0.
In his final report to the board, retiring Elementary School Principal Kendal Ogburn reported a final enrollment of 96 students, successful field trips to a movie in Lamar and lunch in a park as well as plans for Summer School (May 30–June 9) with a focus on reading and math for the 20 students enrolled.
In his final report to the board, High School Principal Josh Smith reported a final enrollment of 108, several awards banquets, the successful senior trip and graduation.
Superintendent Holcomb reported the district being awarded a $50,000 Safe Schools Grant which will fund a more secure entryway at the elementary school and replacement of several doors at the elementary and high school. The board had previously declared the old solar panels as surplus property and the asking price will be $25 each. The district
We received a $50,000 safety and security grant for upgrades at both schools. The Solar Panels will be sold as surplus property for $25 each. As reviewed by DESE, the NEVC R-1 School District received a score of 30 out of 30 for its Continuous School Improvement Plan (CSIP). This will be put into place this coming school year and is part of a multi-part evaluation of the district in the accreditation process.