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Accounting Spillover

Churchill boosters and PTA respond to audit reports.

Doug Brown has an issue with a recent internal audit of Winston Churchill High School. The report indicated that the the Winston Churchill High School Booster Club somehow commingled its funds with that of Churchill's Independent Activity Fund at a recent fund-raiser.

That simply isn't true, said Brown, president of the club.

"That is incorrect and my biggest concern is that when you do an audit and you think you have certain information, you try to corroborate that information, and we were never contacted," said Brown, who is also a licensed CPA. Brown said that the Churchill Booster Club is an independent non-profit that raises funds to supplement Churchill's athletic department.

Brown takes issue with one aspect of a recent audit, which read: "The Booster Club passed proceeds and expenses for their annual golf fund raiser through the school's IAF, making the activity an official MCPS function." The report was written by Roger Pisha, the internal audit supervisor for Montgomery County Public Schools in a letter to Churchill principal Joan Benz earlier this year. "The event included golf and dinner where alcoholic beverages were served," Pisha continued. The use or possession of intoxicants at MCPS functions is strictly prohibited, so the event violated MCPS policy, Pisha said.

Brown said that Pisha must have confused the Booster Club's annual fund-raising gala with a golf tournament organized by Churchill parents who donate proceeds raised from that event to the school.

"The golf benefit is not a Booster Club activity," Brown said. Brown said that the Booster Club is meticulous in keeping its money separate from Churchill's and making sure that it operates within MCPS guidelines.

Pisha did not comment for this story and directed all calls to MCPS spokesman Brian Edwards. Edwards said that he did not know which activity Pisha might have been specifically referring to in his report.

THE AUDIT RAISED broader concerns about the general administration of Churchill's Independent Activities Fund. The fund is the money that each school raises on its own through fund-raisers and ticket sales and can spend as it sees fit, provided it does so within MCPS guidelines.

In Churchill's case, the school has spent more money than it has raised, resulting in an overall negative cash position of $224,224.45, according to Pisha's report.

"[The debt] is in essence an obligation that [the school has] incurred," said Edwards. "They've generated obligations that exceed the money that they've raised." While the audit showed poor accounting, it did not show malfeasance, Edwards said.

"There's no foul play, it's just not good bookkeeping," said Robyn Solomon, president of the Churchill PTSA.

Pisha wrote that there were serious weaknesses in controls in Churchill's administration of its funds and that the audit found a continued and "serious deficiency in control over disbursements." Similar conditions and deficiencies had been pointed out to the school in two previous audits and the school had taken little to no corrective action, Pisha said.

"As principal, you have the fiduciary responsibility for the IAF... In this role, you are the decision maker charged with determining the manner in which student body funds are expended and responsible for ensuring that these funds are administered in accordance with MCPS regulation," Pisha wrote in his letter to Benz.

Pisha found financial control lacking in a wide range of activities in the most recent audit.

An account labeled "Auditorium Pit Cover" was established in October 2004 and the school paid $27,953 for the new pit cover, but an additional $68,337 in additional school improvement were debited from that account, resulting in a negative account balance of $72,363 at the time of the audit.

Several other accounts showed the commingling of account funds and the mislabeling of accounts, according to the report.

Maintenance for the athletic field totaling $44,999.97 was split into three contracts, each in the amount of $14,999.99. "This account should have been competitively bid and processed through MCPS procurement," Pisha said. MCPS policy dictates that any contracts worth $15,000 or more must be bid on competitively, Edwards said.

Brown said that that contract was given to one company and that the Churchill Booster Club reimbursed the school for that expense.

"Our understanding is that that contract was competitively bid," Brown said. Brown said that The Booster Club submitted the three separate payments at the request of the school "Now why it was done in three separate payments I'm not sure. We were told that it was bid, but again that's what we were told," Brown said.

Neither Benz nor Churchill's business manager James Shovling responded to any of several calls and e-mails from The Almanac seeking comment for this story.

MCPS Board of Education member Stephen Abrams (2) said that what he has heard so far about the audit sounds like sloppy accounting, but that he is withholding judgment until a meeting of the board's Audit Committee scheduled for Monday, July 23.

"I want to get into it and find out what's going on," Abrams said.

SOLOMON SAID that the audit showed poor accounting and nothing more.

"It was just poor accounting practices. This audit is from March and they have made changes to correct this," Solomon said. "Honestly I don't think Churchill's that different from any other school in the county in that regard."

As for recent allegations from former Churchill Cluster coordinator Janis Sartucci that the school requires that AP students purchase their textbooks from the school, Solomon said that isn't true. MCPS policy dictates that all textbooks be provided to students free of charge.

Sartucci said that she had spoken with several parents who had purchased textbooks from the school because they thought it was required.

"My daughter graduated this year and she took three AP classes and she didn't buy one book," Solomon said. "Certain classes they recommend you buy the book if you want to mark in them which is what happens in colleges you buy a textbook, you mark in it and it's yours," Solomon said. Those recommendations are far from requirements though, Solomon said, and never once did her daughter have to buy a textbook while she was a Churchill student.

Solomon said that she hopes the fallout from the audit doesn't have any repercussions on Benz.

"You don't become a Blue Ribbon school by being a poor principal," Solomon said. "She gives one hundred and twenty percent of herself if not more than that. She's always there for her students."