A consultant’s assessment of District 97’s business and human resources departments, commissioned last fall by incoming school Supt. Constance Collins, was released last week and paints a dismal picture of each department’s operations and organizational structure.
The 53-page review, conducted by Crowe Chizek and Company, an outside consultant hired by the district last October, found, among other things, that each department lacked general written policies and procedures relating to certain duties. The report detailed 11 specific shortcomings in the personnel department and 30 deficiencies in the business office.
There were no suggestions of financial improprieties by any staff in the report.
Collins requested the review shortly after her hiring in July 2005. Collins said she instigated the process because of the “lack of written procedures in the business office,” and that what she observed was “inconsistent with what her experiences were in other districts.” Collins was hired from Illinois’ Zion school district.
She said her concerns increased as she looked more at the two departments.
“The concerns heightened as I noticed a lack of job descriptions for employees and a lack of contracts and performance evaluations for administrators,” said Collins. “Our goal is to be honest, committed and accountable for the work which needs to be accomplished within our district.”
Last Tuesday, as the report was being released to the board and public, the district’s top financial officer announced his resignation effective at the close of the school year. Gary Lonquist, assistant superintendent for finance and operations, said he would work to begin implementing recommendations suggested in the report before his June 30 departure.
Crowe Chizek and Company interviewed administrators and employees in each department, and examined existing procedures in both.
Collins said Tuesday that the review, which cost the district $36,000, confirmed some of her concerns regarding procedures within the district, such as no clear practices and procedures on hiring, and inconsistencies in record keeping for compensated benefit days of employees. She said the review of both departments was necessary.
“When you take a look at any school district, it becomes important to know what’s going on in those departments,” said Collins, adding that a review to this extent would not be done in other departments. “These two departments, our business office and human resource department, are key to a lot of the work and a lot of the spending that goes on in the district.”
Collins said the board of education agreed that a sweeping review was needed.
“As a board, we welcomed the opportunity,” said board President Carolyn Newberry Schwartz. “We believe that it was time for a very thorough review. Collins, though, stopped short of saying that a major shakeup in personnel would occur as a result of the report. She also cautioned people not to conclude that the report’s findings meant that current or previous administrators were incompetent.
Collins added that the district would implement many of the recommendations made in the report, including creating written policies and procedures for job descriptions and employee responsibilities.
The report also recommended that the business office serve as the primary recipient of all monetary payments via cash, check, wire transfers and credit cards, unless otherwise specified.
Burt Neuhring, an accountant for Crowe Chizek and Company, said the district should take into account the impact some recommendations will have on the district’s budget.
“There may be an investment that you might have to make in order to either implement some of those best practices but it’s also a process of looking at the return on those investments,” he said.
District’s top financial officer resigns
The release of the report coincided with the announced resignation of Gary Lonquist, assistant superintendent for finance and operations, who tendered his resignation to Collins last Tuesday. Lonquist said yesterday that he was looking to pursue other opportunities.
“We appreciate the report and we understand a lot of this stuff, and we’ll see what we can do about it. We’ve been supportive of the process from the beginning,” he said.
When questioned about the timing and nature of his resignation, Lonquist said he didn’t want to talk about himself.
“I’m looking at other opportunities and that’s all I have to say.”
Lonquist will remain in his current job until the end of the school year June 30.
Collins said last week the district hopes to have someone identified as a replacement before June 30, in order for that individual to take over the position by the fall 2006 school year. Collins said the new hire would likely come from outside the district.
Collins said she received Lonquist’s resignation the day of Tuesday’s board meeting. She wouldn’t speculate on the timing of the announcement, but said Lonquist also informed her of his desire to pursue other opportunities.
Collins said she would start the search timetable as soon as possible. She said if a candidate were not identified before the end of the spring, the district would consider appointing an interim to serve temporarily until a permanent replacement is hired.
Lonquist’s salary for the 2005-2006 year was $129,780, according to the human resources department.
Though Lonquist wouldn’t talk about his personal situation, he did say that his office would work with Collins and the board in addressing the report’s assessment, particularly in the area of specific investments, such as software for tracking payroll.
“There are opportunities out there and we have some ideas, but we have to present them up the chain of command, first to the superintendent and then to the board.”
Felicia Starks Turner, director of Human Resources and Development for the district, said last Tuesday that her department is also committed to the process.
“We take the areas of improvement noted in the report very, very seriously,” she said.
The report detailed 11 deficiencies in the personnel department and 30 issues to be corrected in the business office. Among them are:
Human Resources training: Inadequate employee job training, rotation and cross training.
The consultant found there was no formal training program for district employees. Some employees interviewed expressed a lack of knowledge of current job responsibilities.
Job descriptions: The consultant found that the district has not maintained updated job descriptions for district employees.
Hiring: No written procedures for the employment application process currently exist.
Performance evaluations: The district does not have written policies and procedures regarding the performance of annual employee evaluations. The report said this shortcoming could result in a continuation of substandard performance by employees in need of counseling.
Tracking cash: There is a lack of segregation of duties involving cash disbursements.
The accounts payable clerk has custody of the check stock, authorization of disbursements and records the transactions into the accounting system. The consultant recommended those duties be divided among staff as a safeguard.
Billing and collection procedures: The district does not appear to have written billing and collection procedures for payments made by previous district employees who are still receiving insurance, such as retirees.
Comprehensive purchasing policy and procedure manual: The district lacks such a manual, which would provide district staff with guidelines and directions for the acquisition of goods and services.
Credit card policy: The firm noted that the district does not have written policies and procedures for which employees shall receive a credit card, employee responsibility for the card and a dollar limit for purchases made with the card. Nineteen district employees have credit cards, which “appears excessive for a district of this size,” according to the report.