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Auditors find no problems in school budget

"South Whidbey School District's budgeting abilities received an entirely positive review from a trio of state auditors on Wednesday.A special school board meeting was called at 9 a.m to hear a preliminary report on the state's audit of the the school district budget between Sept. 1, 1998 and Aug. 31, 1999.The state Auditor's Office was represented by Nestor Newman, Rick Thorson and Robert Manalila, the latter of whom spent several weeks working closely with school district officials.There were no real weaknesses found, Manalila told the small gathering, which included board members Wendy Alexander and Barbara Schneeman, Budget Director Rex Miller, and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Lisa Bjork.Your controls were that good, Manalila continued. You have good people working for you.Two years ago the district's Associated Student Body fund was over spent, which dominoed into other budget problems. But that's in the past, according to Manalila's comments. The district has been responsive and put people and procedures in place, he said.Newman, Manalila's superior, said the audit concentrated on major areas of state funding such as transportation, the staff mix, and enrollment. And we spent lots of time on the ASB -- it's a hot issue, he said, referring to problems many other school districts have had with accounting for student spending. Newman echoed Manalila in saying no problems were found in South Whidbey budgeting.South Whidbey's budget reserve has slipped in recent years, and the school board has been rebuilding it. Newman described the reserve here as one of the lower percentages in the surrounding Puget Sound area.As of Aug. 31, 1999 South Whidbey's reserve stood at 3.2 percent of the overall budget. Newman said the median among school districts in this area (some higher and some lower) is 6.8 percent. Nearby, Oak Harbor's reserve was 7.8 percent, Coupeville's 4.9, and Port Townsend's 5 percent.Budget director Miller said Friday that South Whidbey's reserve is increasing. There's been quite an effort under way to restore some fund balance, he said. We're definitely heading that way.The other state auditor, Thorson, described the auditing process by saying, Frankly, we look for trouble, and they found that things are going well here. Besides just the numbers, the auditors looked to see that the district is complying with open meeting laws and ethics laws. The district complied with them, he said.The state team will prepare a final report and make it public. Such reports present any problems as findings. But Manalila tipped off what the final report will say. There are no findings this year, he said.Miller said he heard what he expected from the state auditors. There were no surprises, he said. It always makes me feel good. There are so many people doing so many elements (of district budgeting). The people work hard."

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