SMPCS Misses Audit Filing Date, State Withholds $1.5M

By Guy Leonard, County Times

HOLLYWOOD, Md. (Dec. 4, 2008)—The Maryland State Department of Education is withholding about $1.5 million in state aid from St. Mary’s County Public Schools because, for the first time ever according to officials here, the system was late in sending a required internal audit to the state.

In a form letter to School Superintendent Dr. Michael Martirano, dated Nov. 13, the state declared the county would receive the missing 10 percent of its bi-monthly aid package once the documents were in hand. County board of education Chairman Bill Mattingly said the conditions leading to the audit being late — it was due by Nov. 1 — constituted something of a “perfect storm.”

Mattingly said the internal financial audit, which the system had never had a problem with before, had to be done alongside a legislative audit required by a relatively new law passed in Annapolis that examined the practices, procedures and money transactions of the school system.

“They both hit at the same time and our [chief financial officer] retired,” Mattingly told The County Times.

If the former chief financial officer, Daniel Carney, had stayed on, this situation might have been averted, Mattingly said.

“Mr. Carney was very efficient,” Mattingly said. “We never had any issues.

“Everything is under a microscope [with a tight state budget], they [system financial personnel] just got overwhelmed.”

Cathy Allen, another school board member, agreed.

“Our finance department is strapped, we’re having a difficult time filling staff positions,” Allen said. “This [audit] has never been an issue.”

Allen said the legislative audit, which essentially surveys the entire county school system operation, has been going on since the summer and is set to be complete by the end of the year.

“It’s extraordinarily comprehensive,” Allen said of the audit.

Martirano said the completion of the audit in its final form was always on his mind.

“It’s done; it’s in its draft form,” Martirano told The County Times, adding that it still had to be reviewed and sent in. “I’m worried about it every week.

“If we go into the next quarter [without the audit being sent in to the state] then I’ll be concerned.”

So far, though, the draft report was positive according to Martirano.

“The preliminary draft report shows we’re in very good shape,” he said.

The school system can afford to do without the $1.5 million from the state for now, Mattingly said.

“It’s disappointing when it happens,” he said. “But we have enough in the fund balance to maintain.”

Officials expect the audit to be completed soon so the state can release the funds.

Mattingly said the school system is advertising for a new employee to head the finance department with interviews set to commence.

The operating budget for the county public schools system is about $180 million.

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