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Schools audit has criticisms

The Citrus County school district needs to keep better track of its belongings, improve the security of information kept on computer and make sure copies of important files are secured in case of disaster.

Those are the preliminary findings released to the district this week by the office of the state auditor general.

The findings are notable for what they do not contain. Absent are the pages of criticism of the district's purchasing procedures that have filled state audits of the district for more than 10 years.

School finance director Walter Pierce credited the district's purchasing staff, including director William Humbaugh and Kathy Willis, for their work to overhaul purchasing practices after the disastrous Citrus Springs Elementary School painting project in 1995 and the publicity that followed.

The preliminary audit findings cover the year during which that painting project and the purchasing problems it highlighted occurred. But Pierce said auditors give credit for work the district has done to fix its problems.

"If they see that the district has fixed something and don't see any real problem there, they won't cite you for it," Pierce said.

Overall, Pierce said the audit was one of the best he has ever seen.

"This one is better than last year from many aspects," he said. "It's above average as far as an audit goes."

The preliminary findings are delivered to a district, and then school system officials have 30 days to respond to those comments in writing. The final audit report includes the district's responses.

Auditors repeated previous criticisms of the district's warehouse procedures. They noted that the system had more than $384,000 in supplies in the warehouse and that the employees there had overlapping rather than separate duties to receive, issue stock and keep an inventory.

"In the absence of separation of incompatible duties, there is an increased risk that unauthorized issuances could occur which may not be detected in a timely manner," the auditor wrote. "In addition, under these conditions, the district's ability to fix responsibility, should a loss of inventory occur, is limited."

The auditors also noted problems with the marking of school properties for inventory purposes and said they caught instances of computers and other equipment that was on the inventory but could not be found.

Pierce said the district is trying to improve its property handling procedures. He plans to mark equipment with bar codes.

"Currently, we don't hold building administrators responsible if something is missing," he said. Administrators will be encouraged to report items that are missing to local law enforcement. "That will give closure" and record when items have disappeared, Pierce said.

Another change planned is for the school district to have more centralized control over its property in the future. "Right now, for the most part, we leave the responsibility for controlling and recording property to the sites," he said.

The auditors also expressed concern about keeping computer records more secure and making sure that all district records exist in some back-up capacity somewhere in case the original documentation or computer record is destroyed.

Pierce said the district is working on those areas and he hopes the Citrus schools can establish some sort of an agreement with another district to hold copies of important school system information.

Auditors also urged the district to keep a more detailed breakdown of the costs of various state-funded educational programs not just by program, but by course and course level. Pierce said he categorized that criticism as being "a little picky" and he noted that changing the format of reporting the information would have to start with the Department of Education, which set up the format.