Dayton Public Schools audit released by state auditors

For the third straight year, Dayton Public Schools’ state audit was a mixed bag, including an unmodified (positive) opinion on district financial statements, but a citation for problems in how the district spent certain funds.

The Auditor of State’s office issued a finding for recovery Thursday, meaning the audit found “public money illegally expended.” District Treasurer Hiwot Abraha argued that the audit overstated the issue.

The finding dated to a May 2016 field trip where DPS made an advance payment of $19,600 to the vendor, but then never received invoices showing actual costs after the fact, according to the audit. The actual costs were $6,593 lower than what DPS paid.

The audit says the vendor, Adventure Student Travel, repaid DPS in that amount in December after auditors notified both parties of the issue.

>>RELATED: Dayton schools argue 2014-15 audit findings

“Every advance payment requires a leap of faith,” State Auditor Dave Yost said in a statement tied to the audit. “You risk falling flat on your face if you don’t have a follow-up process to ensure you got what you paid for, and you didn’t overpay for the goods or services delivered.”

Abraha said after the field trip ended, the vendor kept the extra money because the teacher involved said they would be coming back the following school year.

“I wouldn’t call it a finding for recovery,” she said. “It’s like a pre-paid. We were not losing the money, we knew where the money was.”

This audit, covering the 2015-16 school year, is the second time in the past three years that Dayton Public Schools’ annual state audit has included a finding for recovery of improperly spent money. Of Montgomery County’s 16 public school districts, Dayton is the only one with any findings for recovery in the last three years’ audits.

In the 2014-15 audit, DPS had no findings for recovery, but six noncompliance issues, including mishandling of payments from bond funds. DPS contested some of those findings, saying they had precisely followed the advice of its bond attorney.

The audit released Thursday said on all six of last year’s issues, corrective action had been taken and “the finding is fully corrected.”

In 2013-14, the audit said DPS wrongly made pay raises for a staff attorney retroactive. The attorney had to repay $7,192 to the district.

>>RELATED: DPS internal auditor says $14K in football money is missing

Abraha focused on the positives of the audit.

“The audit report as a whole is very, very excellent, and we are so proud to get this report. This is the best financial audit you can get – unmodified,” she said. “We implemented a lot of procedures and controls. We’re doing great for this school year. We take care of the taxpayers’ money.”

State audits do not track every dollar a school district uses, but DPS has hired its own internal auditor to root out ongoing problems. For example, DPS auditor Randall Harper last year discovered that the gate receipts from five home football games, totaling $14,312, were never deposited. That issue was not mentioned in the audit report.

Treasurer’s lawsuit

The past three audits cover years when Craig Jones was DPS treasurer and Abraha was assistant treasurer. Jones’ contract was not renewed by the school board last year, and Abraha was hired to replace him last summer.

Jones has since sued the school board, arguing that he was improperly removed from his job as treasurer. He said the Feb. 23 meeting where the school board first voted to non-renew his contract was not a legally valid meeting.

Earlier this week, attorneys for both Jones and DPS agreed to a set of facts in the case and filed dueling motions for summary judgment on behalf of their clients. Montgomery County Common Pleas Court Judge Steven Dankof has not yet issued a ruling.

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