For the ninth year in a row, Polk County Public Schools has received the equivalent of an A+ on its annual financial audit.
“I’m very proud of my team, their hard work and the results we are achieving for the school district,” said Chief Financial Officer Michael Perrone.
“For the public, this audit serves as the highest level of assurance that we are properly managing the revenue we generate from local, state and federal taxes, and we are in compliance with government accounting guidelines. The public can trust that we are being good stewards of their money.”
Accounting Director Lisa Hester and Scott Anderson of Cherry Bekaert CPAs & Advisors, the firm hired to do the school district’s 2018-19 audit, presented the results at Tuesday’s School Board work session.
The audit contained no findings — or areas that need to be corrected — in the district’s finances. Auditors also gave the district high marks for internal controls that have been put into place to ensure proper oversight and management.
“They look into all aspects of the district’s finances. They look for fraudulent activity, and they look to make sure we’re adhering to certain accounting principles. They look to make sure we have the right checks and balances in place,” Perrone said.
Auditors also make sure the district is using its various funding sources correctly.
“There are a lot of restrictions on how the revenue we receive can be spent,” Perrone said. “We deal with what is called categorical funding, or money that can only be used for a certain purpose. For instance, the revenue we generate from the local sales tax can only be used for capital; it cannot be used on things such as salaries. The audit is checking to make sure that not only are we paying the bills, but that we’re also spending the money correctly.”
Achieving such outstanding results requires daily diligence to every financial transaction, Perrone said.
“A good example happened just today,” Perrone said Wednesday. “A member of my staff noticed that too often, when employees book their travel to conferences, trainings and other work-related functions, they’re paying for things such as trip or luggage insurance. That’s not where public money should be going. We’re going to send a communication out to employees to make sure they know they shouldn’t be purchasing those types of coverages, and from here on out, we will be monitoring those purchases every day.
“That’s really how our world works. We’re constantly re-evaluating and putting in new checks and balances to safeguard the district’s finances.”
The district’s positive audit is also the result of the extra steps Perrone and his staff take toward financial transparency. By state law, PCPS must submit an annual financial report to the Florida Department of Education. PCPS goes a step further by also creating a Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR).
Hester said only about one-third of school districts in Florida publish a CAFR. The report delves deep into the district’s finances, providing much more information than the state requires.
“For us it’s about transparency. We want to give our community the most information we possibly can about how we’re spending their money. That’s why we invest the time to create a much more in-depth report each year,” Perrone said.
The district’s annual audit reviews the CAFR, which means it is delayed several months to give time for employees to prepare the nearly 200-page report.
Having nearly a decade of perfect audits and going the extra step to prepare a CAFR helps to bolster the district’s overall financial standing, Perrone said.
“It’s just like when you make your mortgage payments on time. Your credit rating improves and you’re more likely to get a loan at a better interest rate. Banks can look at our audits and our CAFR and they can see that we pose a very small risk. They are more willing to issue bonds on our behalf,” he said.
School Board members praised the audit results.
“This is a remarkable report for an organization of our size,” said Board member Lynn Wilson. “It is a clean report, an excellent report and the kind of thing we want our community to know about.”
Board member Kay Fields added, “We have come a long way and it’s because of the hard work of the staff. I commend the staff for their hard work.”
Board Chair Lori Cunningham also lauded staff for being committed to continual improvement.
“We’ve been working and working toward days like this. We have continued to improve over the years. I want to thank our staff for the many night and weekends that have been spent to make sure that our financial standings are where they need to be.”
Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd offered her congratulations.
“I wanted to thank you and your entire team for the hard work they do to make certain our finances are in great shape,” Byrd wrote in an email to Perrone. “I know they do not get a lot of praise, but I wanted to let them know how important they are. It was an honor to hear that our staff continues to focus on maximizing our funds for students appropriately. These are difficult times, but you do it well.”