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Tag Archive | "cedar springs public schools"

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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Cedar Springs Schools focus on suicide prevention


csps-hawk-logoBy Judy Reed

The excitement of the beginning of a new school year for Cedar Springs Public Schools was muted this year as the district is experiencing a disturbing trend—three student suicides in less than a year. One happened in August 2015, one in May 2016, and the most recent in August 2016. Each one has left the families, students, staff, and community reeling—and asking, “Why is this happening?”

According to the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan, Suicide is the third leading cause of death in children ages 15 to 24, in Kent County.

“We want this to be exposed,” explained Dr. Laura VanDuyn, Superintendent at Cedar Springs Public Schools. “You don’t realize how many may be contemplating it. It’s really scary.”

In May, Van Duyn began to work on pulling together experts in the field and agencies that could help with prevention and treatment.

They district had already implemented the OK2Say program earlier in the spring, which is a Michigan program created by Cedar Springs Curriculum Director Jo Spry, as well as a peer listening group, to help combat bullying, violence, crime, and suicide. According to VanDuyn, OK2Say has saved lives in the district.

“There have been several calls in the last couple of weeks,” said VanDuyn. “Our new school resource officer has personally escorted three children to the hospital after getting tips through the program.”

But this year, the district is doing even more. The experts in the field that VanDuyn contacted in the spring had their first meeting on September 1 to meet each other and begin to come up with a plan to respond in a crisis situation, as well as how to educate staff and students on suicide prevention. Included in the group was Arbor Services Kent School Services Network, the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan, Cherry Health, school mental health counselors, psychologists, and more.

“Our goal is to create a model on how to best utilize the services everyone offers to best serve kids,” explained VanDuyn. “We will meet again to define our roles and what each can offer.”

Other things they will do is expand the b.e. n.i.c.e. program to high school (in addition to middle school); teach the Live Laugh Love curriculum in some of the higher grades (from the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan) and also offer the Healthy Kids series, three free events.

They also have an event coming up next week that they hope the public will attend. They will be showing the free movie “Hope Bridge” on Wednesday, Sept. 14 at 6:30 p.m. in the high school auditorium. Doors open at 6:00 p.m. The movie is about a young man whose father commits suicide. (See ad on page 2.) Christy Buck, Executive Director at the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan, will also be on hand to speak at the event.

The school district is also encouraging people to attend the “Walk to fight suicide” at Millenium Park on Sept. 18 at 1 p.m. For more info you can visit afsp.org/walk.

“It would be great if we could get a big showing from Cedar Springs,” said VanDuyn.

She said that she has been overwhelmed by the amount of community support she’s getting from people calling and asking what they can do, and saying that they will help in anyway that they can.

And VanDuyn is determined to do something to help stop kids from considering suicide as a solution to their problems. “All of these kids were unique. They were good kids. The only way to work towards stopping this is to expose it,” she said.

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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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Cedar Springs Public Schools 2ND Semester Honor roll 2015-2016


Red-Hawk-art-webCalling all proud parents and grandparents! The Cedar Springs Public Schools 2nd Semester Honor Roll is available for download. It includes Middle School 7th and 8th grades and High School 9th – 12th grades. Just click the link below and find your Honor Roll student’s name, print it out and keep it as a keepsake.

CSPSHonorRoll2516.pdf

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Girl Scouts beautify Hilltop grounds


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The Girl Scouts are doing their part to make Cedar Springs a beautiful place. On May 12, Troop 4482 did a community planting project at the Cedar Springs Public Schools Hilltop administration building.

The troop, which is made up of 25 girls in kindergarten, first and second grades, and four leaders, pulled weeds and planted flowers donated by V&V Nursery.

This is their second year completing this community service project for the schools.

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Car crashes into school bus


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By Judy Reed

A crash involving a car and a school bus sent one person to the hospital on Tuesday, March 29.

According to Sgt. Jason Kelley, with the Kent County Sheriff Department Cedar Springs Unit, the crash occurred on 18 Mile Rd near White Creek, in Solon Township, about 8:23 a.m.

A 68-year-old Solon Township woman was traveling east on 18 Mile behind a Cedar Springs Public Schools bus carrying elementary children, when the bus began to slow down for another bus it was following that was stopping to pick up children. The woman was reportedly blinded by the sun, and did not see the bus stopping. She then crashed into the back of the bus without braking, according to a witness.

None of the children on the bus were injured. Another bus was sent to pick up the children and transport them to school.

The bus driver, a 48-year-old woman from Spencer Township, complained of general pain. She was checked out by Rockford ambulance but was not hospitalized.

The driver of the car was sent to Butterworth Hospital by Rockford ambulance with non-life-threatening injuries.

“We are forever grateful for the Kent County Sheriff Department, Fire Department, paramedics and all other first responders for their prompt, caring and professional response to the needs of our school district and community,” said Cedar Springs Public Schools Superintendent Laura VanDuyn.

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Cedar Springs Public Schools 1st Semester Honor roll 2015-2016


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HEY proud parents and grandparents!

The Cedar Springs Public Schools Honor Rolls for Middle School, High School, and New Beginnings Alternative HS are now available to download.

Click link below to download the Cedar Springs Public Schools 1st Semester Honor Roll 2015-2016

CSPS-HonorRoll-1stSemester-2016.pdf

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School board needs to listen to community


Dear Cedar Springs Public Schools Board Members,

There are some deeply disconcerting issues that I and many parents are very concerned about. These are issues that I’m sure you are aware of, but the lack of leadership and reluctance to stand up to do the right thing necessitates the need for me to bring them to your attention publicly.

Over the past 18 months, we have lost four highly acclaimed and accredited administrators. These administrators were well thought of in the community and had given many years of selfless dedication to our children. Their departures were premature and the direct result of intimidation and a hostile work environment. When will this critical drain of vital resources end?

Morale among administrators, teachers, and support staff is at an all-time low. The current culture of “My way or the highway” and lack of institutional support does nothing to foster an innovative, healthy learning experience for our children.

Budget deficits are threatening our children’s quality of education. Blaming the deficit on past administrations, a trick many of our politicians often use, doesn’t explain how the district goes from financially healthy for many years to a sudden deficit. Maybe it has something to do with all the money being spent on lawyers, legal fees, consultants, financial experts, etc. that we never seemed to have needed before.

When will the impassioned pleas of the community make an impact? No credence is given to the phone calls and emails you most assuredly have received. It is difficult to watch you sit indifferent and stone-faced at BOE meetings while the future of our children and district is at stake.

Make no mistake, Board of education members. This school district is at a crucial point. It will take years to rebuild the trust of our leaders, restore a healthy learning culture, and ensure our future financial stability. You can no longer sit passively on the sidelines and watch.

There’s an old saying, “Lead, follow or get out of the way.” The time has passed for you to indulge in the luxury of following.

Sincerely,

Steve C. Harper, Algoma Township

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Thrive program to start in Cedar Springs


 

North Kent Community Services is thrilled to announce a new partnership with Cedar Springs Public Schools. Beginning in February, NKCS will offer its successful Thrive Empowerment Program on the Cedar Springs campus, thanks to a generous offer of classroom space from Superintendent Dr. Laura Van Duyn.

“This is an excellent opportunity to help women with children living in Cedar Springs achieve their livable wage and educational goals,” said NKCS Program Director Chérie Elahl.

NKCS launched the Thrive Empowerment program in September 2014. Since then, several women have obtained or are working toward obtaining their high school diplomas, some are furthering their post-secondary education, and others have found better paying jobs.

“One of our participants described Thrive as a family of women,” said Cherie. “Thrive is an opportunity for the group members to work on their goals without the distraction of everyday life and with the support of other women who are in very similar situations. It’s powerful and beautiful to see what happens when our participants start to believe in themselves.”

The program sessions include financial literacy, connections to resources in Kent County, and time to work on goals in a group environment. One of the favorite classes involves mindfulness for parenting; the participants learn how to parent without anger and have a calmer home environment. Thrive is open to all women with children who live in northern Kent County. There are no income guidelines. “Having participants from different walks of life really enriches the group dynamics as well as the Thrive experience,” explains Chérie.

To learn more about the Thrive Empowerment Program, contact Chérie Elahl at cherie.elahl@nkcs.org or at 616-866-3478 ext. 105. The new cohort will begin in February 2016. Make a New Year’s resolution to reach your goals in this life-changing program. Class sizes are limited so call soon!

 

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Student Assessment Results Released to Cedar Springs Public Schools Families


Results Reflect Transition to MI Higher Standards

Families across Cedar Springs Public Schools this week are beginning to receive their students’ scores on the 2014-15 statewide assessment, known as M-STEP.

We are working to ensure parents and families know scores reflect both a new assessment and a major transition to higher standards.

The next few years will require significant transitions for students, families and educators, as the adjustment to higher standards and the M-STEP continues.

Students are adjusting to the new form of tests.  Expectations are higher, tests are challenging and even the way that tests are taken  – online – is new to some students.  Results from the 2014-2015 school year will set a new baseline for measuring student progress on this challenging test.  These results are important for understanding student learning moving forward.

Across Michigan, districts are facing the same challenges we are.  We know that it is important to set high expectations for our students and all of our teachers are working every day to help our students meet and exceed these expectations.  These kinds of changes – to higher standards and challenging tests – take time.  We appreciate parents being our partners in making sure that our students are getting the tools and support that they need to be successful, in and out of school.

Spring 2015 M-Step aggregate score results from Cedar Springs, Kent County and the State of Michigan are listed below.

Grade 3
  Cedar Springs Kent County State
English Language Arts 54.3% 52.5% 50.1%
Math 62.4% 52.0% 48.8%
Grade 4
  Cedar Springs Kent County State
English Language Arts 33.5% 50.1% 46.6%
Math 36.8% 44.8% 41.4%
Science 10.5% 14.9% 12.4%
Grade 5
  Cedar Springs Kent County State
English Language Arts 44.5% 51.7% 48.7%
Math 43.3% 36.3% 33.4%
Social Studies 17.6% 24.4% 22.2%
Grade 6
  Cedar Springs Kent County State
English Language Arts 47.8% 49.3% 44.7%
Math 40.4% 39.0% 33.3%
Grade 7
  Cedar Springs Kent County State
English Language Arts 65.2% 51.7% 49.1%
Math 60.0% 37.6% 33.3%
Science 36.1% 25.5% 22.7%
Grade 8
  Cedar Springs Kent County State
English Language Arts 59.1% 51.3% 47.6%
Math 31.8% 39.2% 32.2%
Social Studies 39.6% 34.1% 29.7%
High School Grade 11
  Cedar Springs Kent County State
English Language Arts 51.3% 55.6% 49.3%
Math 22.4% 32.9% 28.5%
Science 32.5% 30.4% 29.4%
Social Studies 47.2% 46.8% 43.9%
New Beginnings Grade 11
 Cedar Springs Kent County State
English Language Arts 15.8% 55.6% 49.3%
Math 0.0% 32.9% 28.5%
Science 11.8% 30.4% 29.4%
Social Studies 23.5% 46.8% 43.9%
District Grade 11
  Cedar Springs Kent County State
English Language Arts 48.1% 55.6% 49.3%
Math 20.7% 32.9% 28.5%
Science 30.8% 30.4% 29.4%
Social Studies 45.3% 46.8% 43.9%

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