BY DANA DiFILIPPO
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Accounting oversights could threaten Cincinnati Public Schools' assets, a lesson Central State University administrators learned this fall when auditors discovered that the university couldn't account for 17 vehicles, Ohio Auditor Jim Petro said.
Mr. Petro's office released a financial audit Thursday that details widespread documentation problems in the 47,400-student Cincinnati school district -- including officials' failure to inventory properties ranging from artwork to classroom desks to computers.
Without such a policy, district assets are vulnerable to theft, Mr. Petro said.
At Central State, the missing 17 vehicles have drawn the attention of Ohio State Highway Patrol investigators. While auditors haven't alleged criminal wrongdoing, university leaders cannot know whether the vehicles were stolen or properly disposed of without adequate accounting, Mr. Petro said. Assets worth $500 or more should be documented, he added.
"If you don't have an accurate asset identification system, things like computers, technology, small things that have
legs, tend to walk away," Mr. Petro said. "How do you protect assets from being stolen?"
CPS officials have fielded criticism in the past for failing to have a comprehensive inventory of assets. School board member Harriet Russell, of the board's finance committee, said it would cost too much to catalog all the district's belongings.
District Treasurer Richard Gardner said officials plan to register assets as they implement the $697 million facilities master plan in the next three to seven years.
"We certainly acknowledge that those records are necessary, but it's a very expensive transition to make," Mr. Gardner said. "We are in a period of time when money is short, and we want to devote as many dollars as we can into the classroom."
The 58-page audit highlighted 11 cases of non-compliance, including six in which the oversights indicated a potential loss of money or breakdown in systems.
Thursday's audit evaluated the fiscal year ending in 1997. The district is one year behind in audits because of poor record-keeping.
Fined for being tardy
By state law, CPS must file financial statements within 150 days of a fiscal year's end. Violators face a fine of $25 a day, up to $750. CPS officials never formally filed according to statute; instead, they gave records to auditors piecemeal from February to July, auditor's office spokeswoman Kate Buchy said. That tardiness cost the district $750.
The district hasn't filed records for the fiscal year ending in 1998, which were due Monday, and the auditor's office rejected its request last week for an extension, Ms. Buchy said.