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Tag Archive | "Board of Education"

Financial review of school shows tighter control needed


csps-hawk-logo

By Judy Reed

UPDATE Sept. 23, 2016: The section on p-card credit limits and purchase limits has been revised to reflect more accurate information.

A forensic audit into record keeping in the athletic department at Cedar Springs Public Schools did not show any intentional misuse of funds or fraud, but did show that the district needs to have stricter policies and procedures on procurement cards and ensuring employees have the guidelines on how to use them.

“The investigation was a reflection of concerns brought to us about athletic accounts,” explained Dr. Laura VanDuyn, Superintendent at Cedar Springs Public Schools. “When several concerns mounted, the board decided to go ahead with the investigation. We are accountable to the community, staff, and parents. We are stewards of taxpayer dollars.”

According to the report, Rehmann Corporate Investigative Services was contacted on December 11, 2015, by the Thrun Law Firm (representing CSPS) to request a review of financial transactions and internal controls at Cedar Springs Public Schools. The review included forensic accounting analysis and interviews. Additional investigation involved purchase or “P-cards” issued to 13 unique employees, and a more detailed review of all transactions impacting the football team’s agency account during the 2015-2016 school year.

The results of the Rehmann report, which was printed in June, was initially suppressed from the public under attorney-client privilege. The Cedar Springs Board of Education voted on August 8 to make it available to the public. According to the board minutes, the vote passed 7-0. No video was available for that portion of the meeting, but according to the Superintendent’s office, there was no public discussion about its contents.

The Post asked Supt. VanDuyn why they decided to release the report now. “People would ask whatever happened with that investigation, and we are accountable to our constituents, so decided to release it,” she explained.

The report explained that purchases made using the p-cards are generally allocated to a specific fund. At CSPS there is a general athletic department fund, a general fund for each team, and an agency fund for each team (which is generally restricted to funds raised through boosters and other sources). The report said that according to their investigation, there does not appear to be any consistent practice with regards to when purchases should be paid using agency funds instead of general funds, nor when a general athletic department expense account is charged for a purchase instead of a team account. It said there also didn’t appear to be any consistent methodology for allocating expenses between more than one team when there was shared expenses.

The report also indicated that during review of p-card purchases and receipts, that in only a few instances was the reason for the purchase adequately documented, and little indication that the purchase had been reviewed and approved by anyone (such as a supervisor). Detailed receipts could not be found for purchases in some instances. One such instance they mentioned was a credit card purchase in July 2013 by then Athletic Director Autumn Mattson from Daktronics for $8,437. The company sells scoreboards, audio systems, message boards, etc. The report said that no detailed receipt was attached to the credit card statement, so they couldn’t ascertain what the purchase was.

VanDuyn said that many of the instances referred to happened before either she or Finance Director Rosemary Zink took office. She did say, however, that she has confidence in the accounting department. “They do make sure there are receipts, they are very strict about that,” said VanDuyn.

The report noted that “based on our limited review of the purchases initiated on the p-cards for the Athletic Department under the control of Autumn Mattson, we did not note any purchases that were inherently inappropriate. In many instances, the lack of a detailed receipt hindered our ability to review what was purchased and make a determination with regards to its appropriateness.”

The Post asked why the yearly auditor would not find the discrepancies that the forensic auditor had. “The difference between an annual audit and this one is that the annual audit is making sure you are spending federal money the way you are supposed to,” explained VanDuyn. “They might do random samples of two credit cards. They don’t go through all the transactions detail by detail.”

There were several exhibits attached to the original report that included the policy and guidelines for the p-card holders, and referenced purchases. The school did not release those exhibits. “We only released the executive summary,” explained Van Duyn. “The rest would’ve been problematic. We wanted to protect the confidentiality of those employees,”

The Post asked if there were guidelines that all the p–card users have, and was told all p-card holders have to sign off on them. We asked to have them sent to us but the guidelines didn’t seem to be readily available.

Another problem noted was that the different departments keep track of their budget on an Excel spreadsheet, while the accounting department then gets together with them every so often to reconcile the account. The investigator was not able to reconcile an error in the athletic department’s Excel spreadsheet for funds available for the football team at the end of 2014.

The report said it was important to note that the accounting department maintains the agency funds for the various teams and other groups at CSPS. “As a result, we believe that it would be difficult for a member of the athletic department to misappropriate funds once they had been remitted to the accounting department for deposit in to the bank. During our meeting with Coach Kapolka, he was provided with a copy of the invoices and other expenditures pertaining to the football team for his review. During this analysis, Kapolka did not indicate that any of the expenditures were inappropriate.” They felt the accounting records were more accurate than the athletic department records.

The report made a variety of recommendations. One was limiting the number of p-cards. CSPS currently has in excess of 70 p-cards, which they said means that the accounting department has to spend too much time reviewing statements and tracking down receipts. “The school is also at a heightened risk for financial loss due to the number of cards in circulation in the event of an abusive or tempted employee,” it said. They recommended cutting it down to 10, and to make as many purchases as possible through the accounts payable process.

The report also recommended lowering both the credit limit and purchase limit on p-cards, noting that they are mainly for small transactions. The AD had a credit limit of $20,000; the supervisor a limit of $5,000; and TV production of $35,000.

Many colleges and universities don’t have credit limits that large. For example, Cornerstone University p-card holders have a credit limit of $3,000 with a per purchase limit of $1,000; and Western Michigan University has a credit limit of $5,000 with a purchase limit also of $5,000.

The Rehmann report recommended lowering the purchase limit for Cedar Springs p-card holders to $50 to $100 for the majority of the cards.

Other recommendations included employees getting approval before purchases; including an explanation on why items were purchased using the p-card; developing and implementing clear guidance on when general funds should be used and when agency funds should be used; using a corporate Amazon account instead of individual accounts; requiring the submission of detailed receipts; and more.

Dr. VanDuyn said they haven’t implemented any of the recommendations yet. “We will look at all the recommendations from the Rehmann Report. It’s up to us to go through them and see what works for us. We are looking to review them and see which things we will address,” she said.

So what’s the bottom line? “It basically says we need to clean up our business practices. We want accountability and have high expectations of all of our employees,” remarked VanDuyn. “Anytime you can work hard to make things better, it’s worth it.”

The Post asked for a statement from former AD Autumn Mattson regarding the report and the information it contained. “I was aware that CSPS was reviewing their financial processes and procedures. And after reading the report, I can see that no illegal activity was found. I wish CSPS the best of luck as they implement the recommendations that were in the report,” she said.

Anyone wishing a full copy of the report may file a Freedom of Information Act with the school.

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Board of Education


Board of Education High School Reps

Board of Education 2016 High School Representatives were introduced at the 8/8/16 Board of Education Meeting

Board of Education 2016 High School Representatives were introduced at the 8/8/16 Board of Education Meeting

CSPS-Board-of-Ed-girlsNext Board of Education Meeting 

September 12, 2016

Hilltop Community Building, Board Room – 3rd Floor, 6:45 PM

Board meeting notices, agendas and minutes are available at www.csredhawks.org/District/Board-of-Education/index.html.  Community members are always welcome to attend the Board of Education meetings.  A Board meeting is a meeting of the Board held in public, not a public meeting.

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Deputy Tom McCutcheon chosen as school resource officer


 

Kent County Sheriff Deputy Tom McCutcheon will be on the job 40 hours a week at Cedar Springs Public Schools next fall as the new school resource officer.

Kent County Sheriff Deputy Tom McCutcheon will be on the job 40 hours a week at Cedar Springs Public Schools next fall as the new school resource officer.

By Judy Reed

When students return to school in September, there will be a new face there to greet them. Deputy Tom McCutcheon was recently selected as the new school resource officer (SRO) for Cedar Springs Public Schools. The position is through a partnership with the Kent County Sheriff Department, which the Board of Education approved on June 6.

According to Sgt. Jason Kelley, of the KCSD Cedar Springs unit, interviews were held at the Cedar Springs Public Schools Administration Building on June 28, where eight members of the school had an opportunity to interview five candidates from the Sheriff Department for the position. As a result of the interviews, Deputy Tom McCutcheon was selected as the Cedar Springs School Resource Officer.

Deputy McCutcheon began his career with the Kent County Sheriff Department in 1993. During this time Deputy McCutcheon has gained extensive knowledge and experience in Community Policing. Deputy McCutcheon spent many years as a D.A.R.E (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) Instructor, speaking in many different school districts, including Cedar Springs.

“While teaching D.A.R.E., you were never at the same school two days in a row, but you still felt like you were part of something that helped kids change and was a good influence in their life,” noted McCutcheon.

The Post asked him why he wanted the SRO position in Cedar Springs. “I hope to be a positive influence to the young people there,” he explained. “A lot of people think of security, and students feeling safe. But it’s more. I want to be a part of the school. It’s like what being a community policing officer is; you try to be proactive. If there is criminal activity going on, and people look up to you and trust you, you can help reduce a lot of that.”

Deputy McCutcheon has a passion for serving kids and has had immense involvement in school and communities. He has served in the Comstock Park School District as a football and girls varsity softball coach. He started a local Boy Scout troop and established KOPS (Kids & Officers Productive Society, a program centered around helping disadvantaged youth build self-esteem to become productive students).

Deputy McCutcheon was recognized as the Kent County Sheriff Department Deputy of the Year in 2007, and School Officer of the year by the West Michigan Crime Prevention Association. He has also served as president of that same group.

The School Officer of the Year award was given to him for his work in the KOPS program. McCutcheon is proud of the work he did in that program. He said he had been working with the same young man over and over at East Kentwood’s alternative high school, who kept getting into trouble. He spoke with the principal, and they formed the program to help troubled youth get back on track. “Over the four years of the program, we had multiple grads go on to college or work; students go back to regular high school; and students that had no more involvement in crime,” he explained.

McCutcheon is excited to begin his new position in Cedar Springs in August, where he will be on campus 40 hours a week. “I am excited and looking forward to the challenge of getting to know them (the students) and them getting to know me. I’ll do what I can to help them succeed. It’s just another piece of the puzzle—me doing what I can to help them achieve their goals,” he said.

The position will be jointly funded by the school and the county. The Kent County Sheriff Department offered to fund 30 percent of the program. The outstanding cost to the district would be approximately $76,000, after the Sheriff Department’s contribution. The cost would cover wages and benefits for 40 hours per week for the deputy; all standard issued deputy equipment; a Kent County Sheriff car, fully equipped, fueled and maintained; and all police training and supervision.

“We look forward to our partnership with the Kent County Sherriff Department and a focus on school safety and security throughout our district,” said Superintendent Dr. Laura VanDuyn. “We know through our surveys of staff and parents that they view safety and security as a priority for our CSPS and we do too! This initiative is just one way we are responding to that feedback. We now join many districts in Kent County in the SRO program and know it will serve us well.”

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A DISTRICT DIVIDED


 

N-Sunshine-logoResidents, teachers want answers from school board; others supportive of changes

By Judy Reed

“Why have four administrators left since Dr. Laura VanDuyn was hired as Superintendent two years ago? Why has the culture at Cedar Springs Public Schools changed?” Those are the questions that many residents and school employees are asking the Cedar Springs Board of Education, while many other residents and school employees say they are supportive of the changes.

The Board of Education heard both kinds of comments from a cross-section of residents and employees at Monday night’s standing-room only board meeting. Overflowing attendance has become the norm recently, as people on both sides of the issue yearn to have their voice heard.

The administrators in question have all resigned: assistant superintendent of teaching and instruction Steve Seward in fall of 2014; Cedar Trails principal Jennifer Harper, early 2015; associate superintendent of finance David Cairy, fall 2015; and most recently, athletic director Autumn Mattson, in February, 2016. Her assistant AD Tyler Wolfe resigned in December.

Of those that resigned, Harper was given a salary per her separation agreement, and was not allowed to talk about why she left. That led some people to speculate she was forced out. The Post talked to Dr. VanDuyn about it at the time, and told us it was an ongoing personnel matter. “We can’t reveal the nature because it is a personnel matter. But I think it’s important to say that it’s not a matter that has to do with criminal conduct or the safety of students.”

Van Duyn said Harper was put on paid administrative leave pending an investigation. “We have clearly followed our district’s legal counsel in the matter,” she said.

At Monday evening’s meeting, teacher Sarah Holtrop spoke in support of the superintendent. “I’ve served under five different superintendents and five different principals,” she said. “I don’t feel it’s fair to blame Dr. VanDuyn for the resignations of four administrators. They could have chosen to accept her as superintendent. Personally I have found Dr. VanDuyn to be compassionate and caring.”

Teacher Lisa Schmidt also offered support, noting that change is difficult, and that Dr. VanDuyn is well-liked by many staff members in the district.

Resident Sam Gebhardt also offered his support to the superintendent and the board. “I graduated from here, raised my family here. I like the direction we are going right now. You hear a lot of negative comments, but a lot of people like it, too,” he said.

Former teacher and coach Ted Sabinas, who taught for 34 years and coached for 37, asked the board to look into why so many teachers and administrators are fearful for their jobs if they speak up or question how the district is being run.

Longtime teacher Mary Graf—a 39-year veteran—gave an impassioned speech to the board about her concerns with the changing culture in the district. She said she had heard remarks that the problems they are facing are because people are resistant to change, but she strongly disagreed. Graf noted that she had seen a lot of change over the years and hadn’t always agreed with it, but one thing remained constant, until now. “But through all of these challenges and difficult times, honesty and respect remained between the teachers, the school board, and the superintendent. Never did I experience the finger pointing, dishonesty, and disrespect that is currently permeating our school district. How does this type of culture help our students?” she asked. (Read her entire letter on here).

Teacher Josh Cooper spoke on behalf of the teachers at the High School, and showed support for their administrators, Principals Ron Behrenwald and Anne Kostus, and said they were deeply saddened at the loss of former Dean of Students and Athletic Director Autumn Mattson. He also talked about all the good things happening at the high school.

Resident Lee Mora asked the board when they were going to address Mattson’s appeal to the board for an exit interview. She had asked initially for an exit interview with the board of education, and since that is routinely done with human resources, was told by HR she could have an exit interview with them, but not with the board. She declined and appealed to the board. As of Wednesday, Mattson said she had not received a response from the board.

Mora asked the board why they wouldn’t want to gather all information possible from an administrator who had served there 14 years. Board president Patricia Eary told Mora that their legal counsel had said exit interviews were not to be done by the board, because they have only one employee—the superintendent.  (Read Mora’s letter on here).

Board trustee Michelle Bayink asked if they could possibly discuss some of these issues at the next board workshop, but Eary said she thought the agenda for that workshop was already set. Resident Sue Wolfe told the board she hoped they would discuss some of these concerns.

The Post contacted Board president Patricia Eary this week, and asked her whether the board was planning to address these concerns, whether at the next workshop, or through some other means, such as round table discussion with the board, superintendent, representatives of buildings, and the community. We also asked whether they would be responding to Mattson’s appeal; whether they wanted to know why these people left; and what did they think was the best way to restore unity in the district?

“The board employs one person and that is the superintendent,” said Eary. “The only exit interview the board would conduct would be with our one employee. In regard to the exit interviews for all staff members except for the superintendent, there is no right granted to anyone to have an exit interview in this state. Our school district does offer exit interviews and they are conducted by the Human Resource Department. The offer was made to Mrs. Mattson to have an exit interview with the HR Department.”

Eary offered a general response for the other questions.

“The Board of Education is committed to providing an excellent education for every child in the district. The Board of Education is committed to high expectations for excellence in all we do as a district. We hold ourselves and all others accountable and expect every person to work with integrity in all positions, whether the position be superintendent, teacher, administrator, support staff or coach.

“The Board is listening to the community and is responsive to their concerns and will continue to be in communication with the community in the days and weeks ahead.

“We believe our leadership team shares our commitment to our students and staff. Together we are confident the children and families are going to receive a great education at our district.

“The Board of Education would like to express our deep appreciation for the outstanding and dedicated staff. The teachers, administrators and support staff work very hard to provide a high quality education for our students. They do so during a time when education and expectations to meet high standards is continually changing. We are proud of our staff members.

“Finally, we would like to thank the many volunteers, parents and community members who continue to partner with us to serve the many students of Cedar Springs. We appreciate all who shared with us their concerns, suggestions and affirmations over the last several months.”

See several letters to the editor about this issue here.

Tell us—how do you feel about this? How do you think unity should be restored? Send your letters to the editor to us at news@cedarspringspost.com, and follow the guidelines (including word limit) on our Voices and Views page.

NEXT WEEK: Long range financial outlook—could district be headed into the red?

 

 

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Is the board interested in hearing the facts?


 

CS Board of Education, (read at Board of Ed meeting March 14)

The March 3 edition of the Cedar Post reported that Autumn Mattson had requested an exit interview with the Board of Education and that it had been denied. If this is true, at what public board meeting was this discussed and voted on? It is not recorded in any board minutes at this time. Please clarify if this is a true statement.

Also according to the Post article, there has been an appeal to the board on their decision to deny the interview. Since an answer to the appeal is required by the board and the topic is not on tonight’s board agenda, when does the board plan to address it?

The Open Meeting Act is very clear that all board decisions must be made in public. Total compliance with all Open Meeting Act laws is critical in maintaining the integrity of our district.  Our own Board of Education’s Policies & Goals States in Goal #2 Community Relations 2.1” Promoting honest, trustworthy, relationships with transparent dialogue and communication (Internal) organizations that support win-win situations for both parties that increase student achievement.” As board members, You took an oath to follow the law which includes the Open Meetings Act.

This was a request directed to the board and not a staff member. The board has every right to grant this request. You may choose to do this at any regular meeting or hold a special meeting. There is absolutely no reason not to do this. Why wouldn’t the board want to gather all the possible information from an administrator who has served our students and community for 14 years?  Mrs. Mattson is willing to openly discuss her experience in our school district. She is willing to share the facts. You could clarify and ask any questions you or the public may have. This interview would be an excellent opportunity for you to gather accurate information.

So why wouldn’t the board be interested in hearing the facts first hand? You have the opportunity to decipher between fact and fiction on our local education for yourselves and the community. This is what I am asking for.

1.  The board connects with the community

2.  The board monitors performance

3.  The board takes responsibility for itself

I would like to request that this letter be recorded in the minutes.  I would like your response to be answered publically and to also be recorded in the board minutes please.

Sincerely, 

Lee Mora

Cedar Springs School District Resident

(This letter has been edited for length. A full original copy is available from Mr. Mora.)

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Is Board of Education leading or following?


Post Scripts: The Cedar Springs Post welcomes letters of up to 350 words. The subject should be relevant to local readers, and the editor reserves the right to reject letters or edit for clarity, length, good taste, accuracy, and liability concerns. All submissions MUST be accompanied by full name, mailing address and daytime phone number. We use this information to verify the letter’s authenticity. We do not print anonymous letters, or acknowledge letters we do not use. Writers are limited to one letter per month. Email to news@cedarspringspost.com, or send to PostScripts, Cedar Springs Post, PO Box 370, Cedar Springs, MI 49319.

 


 

There are many responsibilities that we, as community members, entrust to our Board of Education. These policies are a collaboration of the Michigan Association of school boards, the Board of Education, and district staff. As we find ways to support each other and our schools in a positive and productive manner, I’d like to highlight a few areas that are in need of community attention.

Communication:  The board is responsible for providing adequate and direct means for keeping the community informed and for keeping informed about the wishes of the public.  They must also maintain effective communication with staff and students.

How does our board comply with this responsibility?

In a letter read from the board president during the October 12, 2015 board meeting, she stated to administrators and staff “if you do not think you can work for the current administration, you are free to seek employment elsewhere.” An example of the “my way or the highway” culture prevalent in our district.

When asked to elaborate on decisions/opinions during BOE meetings, the typical response is “the superintendent will get back to you on that.” When provided the opportunity to have exit interviews with the administrators that have left the school district, the BOE response was “No, thank you.” Are they afraid of the truths that information might reveal? The decisions to not respond and not seek truths are irresponsible and inconsistent with BOE policy.

Financial resources: The board is responsible for exercising control over district finances to assure proper use of and accounting for all funds. Further the employment of consultants requires board approval.

According to the latest budget amendment approved by the Board of Education on February 22, 2016 it was reported projected net change in fund balance of $808,988.  Of this, over $180,000 was spent on legal services, consultants, and financial advisors. Over 25 percent of the increase in expenses, approved by our BOE was spent on external consultants. How does this compare to the last ten years? It seems readily apparent that our current leaders need a significant amount of guidance.

School Superintendent: The superintendent is responsible for the management of schools under board policies and is the only employee of the district accountable to the BOE. The BOE is to provide sufficient and adequate guidance for implementing policy.

From all outward appearances, I suspect our BOE has misinterpreted the policy and believe they are the ones receiving guidance and direction. A leader with a strong personality does not relieve you of your obligations. A leader who is not held accountable by established checks and balances is called a dictator. For the sake of our district, you cannot be puppets responding to the pull of a string.

Steve C Harper, Algoma Township

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January News


Upcoming Events

1/11 – Board of Education Meeting

1/15 – Student Early Release

1/22 – End of Semester 1 (grades 6-12)

1/29 – Student Early Release

2016 High School Winter Musical “Wizard of Oz”

For more information visit: www.hprodcshs.com/wizard-2016.html

Mark your calendar for the show on Feb 4, 5, 6, & 7

High School Auditorium

School Breakfast

Does your child miss breakfast – no time or simply isn’t hungry first thing in the morning?

Here’s a solution: School Breakfast!

School breakfast provides 1/4 of your child’s daily nutrition needs and research shows breakfast provides fuel for school and boosts brain power. Breakfast at school is affordable, too. It’s available for all students and if you qualify for free or reduced price lunch, you also qualify for free or reduced price breakfast. Encourage your child to join us for school breakfast.

Time Served: 7:10 am & 8:30 am

Volunteers are welcome

In Cedar Springs there are several ways parents may volunteer to help the school maintain the quality of educational services. Volunteer to work in the classroom with your child’s teacher, work at book fairs, pop popcorn, help with picture day, etc. Please check with your child’s building office for volunteer opportunities.

To help insure the safety of our students, all volunteers willbe required to complete a consent form for a criminal history search. Results from these searches are kept completely confidential.

Please visit www.csredhawks.org/Parents/VolunteerInformation/index.html for the consent form and return to your child’s building office.

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School hires consultant to oversee business office


 

With former associate superintendent Dave Cairy moving on to another job, Cedar Springs Public Schools has hired Donald Sovey, CPA, owner of School and Municipal Advisory Services P.C., to oversee the business office and spearhead the search for a new associate superintendent of business.

Sovey was introduced to the Cedar Springs Board of Education last Monday, November 9, at its regular board meeting. Sovey introduced Tom Tebeau, of T2 Professional Business Services, who will help with some of the accounting and budget amendments that will need to be done. His services will be billed at $100 an hour.

Besides hiring Cairy’s replacement, Sovey plans to do a long-term financial outlook; develop a proactive financial leadership team; make sure staff  are properly trained and keep them trained; establish fiscal sustainability goals; install best business practices for finances and operations; and more.

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2015 Board of Education Meetings


 

The Cedar Springs Public Schools Board of Education welcomes attendance of the public and school staff at its meetings.

A school board meeting is the only means by which a school board can carry out its legal duties or exercise its legal powers.  As such, the primary purpose of a school board meeting is to transact business.  Secondarily, school board meetings provide opportunities for creative and constructive decision-making by members of the board while attempting to reach consensus on strategic issues.  In addition, school board meetings offer an opportunity for the public and staff to address the Board of Education.

Location:  Hilltop Community Building

Board Room – 3rd Floor @ 6:45 PM

November 9 – regular meeting

November 23  – work session

December 14 – regular meeting

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7th grade band performs


Band Teacher Adam Hendry brought members of the 7th grade band to the 4-13-15 Board of Education Meeting for a spectacular performance. What a show!

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