Responsible financial practices and a review of personnel placement are two main goals of the Pleasantville School Districts's state-appointed fiscal monitor.
James Riehman has been the monitor in Pleaseantville since he was appointed by the state Department of Education in 2009. His main duties, as was the case with his predecessors since they were first required in 2007, is to work closely with the district’s business office and superintendent to determine and correct deficiencies in the district. He said he has found the district needs to focus on figuring out a way to balance its budget and centralize business administration.
Superintendent Garnell Bailey said the DOE conducts assessments of the district, like a checklist, to determine what areas need work.
Items from a new audit were briefly viewed at the previous school board meeting, but a review of the items needing attention will be discussed at the Oct. 9 meeting.
Riehman said the district undergoes various audits from the state and federal level, as well as an annual financial audit from an outside accounting firm, which is required for all school districts.
“His job is to look at the overall picture, review the statutes and compare them to where we are,” she said of Riehman.
"Their administrative costs are consistently higher than the state average," Riehman said in an interview this week.
One source of this extra expense is lawsuits, and preliminary steps can be taken, Riehman said.
He watches administrative practices and how officials are managing the district, and if they do take any action he ensures it is not going to impact them with a lawsuit, he said.
Policies that are in place for putting in purchase orders are also an area of concern.
“They are ordering things not according to code. Staff orders things and don’t follow procedure, so we are constantly having to train them,” Riehman said.
He noted that even after the problem is solved, when factors such as a change in personnel or staff occur, the problem can reappear. In those cases, an audit would show that the problem has resurfaced therefore affecting the overall report for the district.
The district is almost 90 percent funded by the state, and about 80 percent of the budget is personnel, he said.
An analysis will be conducted to determine which departments are understaffed or overstaffed, Riehman said, highlighting a need to look at the need for aides in classrooms.
Some departments will have to be cut while others may hire more employees. One anticipated hire is of an on-site mechanic. Though the board already approved the proposal to create the position, a mechanic will not actually be hired until tools, equipment and a workspace such as a garage or covered workshop are budgeted.
The on-site mechanic would be a cost-effective solution to maintenance problems and provide flexibility to the administration in dealing with emergencies, rather than relying on contractors, Riehman said. A balance of hiring contractors for large projects as well as having a district mechanic for emergencies and smaller maintenance issues would help streamline maintenance operations.
“The less maintenance performed year after year, the more a major project comes about,” he said.
Continuous assessment every few months helps give the schools and idea of what is deficient.
“Each audit is a snapshot in time,” Bailey said.
She explained that the school could have zero problems during one assessment, and then during the next one they could have several things requiring attention.
The state department needs three to four years of consecutive good reports before it would consider removing the monitor, Riehman said.
Riehman’s contract with the district expires Jan. 31, 2013, and the district has not received information on what will happen after that, Board secretary Dennis Mulvihill said.
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