Audits reveal financial problems in Utah school sports programs
Confusion over money, missing funds and inadequate tracking of public dollars in school activities and sports are problems that extend far beyond recent concerns about Timpview High School, according to the Office of the State Auditor.
The office released four audits Thursday of programs at Davis, Cottonwood, Fremont and Alta high schools.
They found public funds improperly kept by Cottonwood booster clubs; inadequate oversight that left funds at Fremont, Davis and Cottonwood vulnerable to misuse; a lack of documentation of money collected through fundraisers at Alta and Cottonwood; and athletic construction projects at Cottonwood that may have violated state law.
The number of issues led auditors to conclude the problems may be pervasive in Utah.
"A significant amount of money is handled at schools through fundraising, donations, advertising, sponsorship and booster club activities," said a summary given to the State Office of Education. "Based on our review of a limited number of school districts and schools, we believe that similar problems would be found at other districts and schools."
Auditors examined the schools' financial practices after questions arose about finances within Timpview's sports programs. Allegations resulted in Timpview football coach Louis Wong's resignation.
Though auditors discovered troubles at all four schools, they found the most issues at Cottonwood.
They found the school's booster clubs kept money raised at various events that should have been considered public money that went directly to the school.
"District policies are unclear and confusing," the Cottonwood audit states, "which made the determination of whether the funds raised were public or private difficult."
The audit also shows Cottonwood construction projects funded by donations, including a weight room, baseball practice facility, press box and football field, were not properly overseen or accounted for by Granite School District. "Because these projects were funded by and constructed under the direction of the donors, the District abdicated much of their responsibility for the projects to the donors," according to the audit. "However, state law does not give any exemptions related to construction depending on the funding source; therefore, all state laws and rules apply to donated projects."
Cottonwood also made payments totalling more than $27,000 to a single vendor for multiple invoices without getting proper competitive bids. And it appears the school split purchases of baseball uniforms into multiple invoices, possibly to avoid bidding requirements and the district's involvement something the district's own accounting manual says is illegal.
Granite spokesman Ben Horsley said the audit's findings did not surprise the district. He said the district has been investigating the situation at Cottonwood for about a year. Granite passed a new donations policy this summer and is now changing other policies as well, he said.
"These problems didn't begin with some of the people we have in place now, but they're going to end with us," Horsley said.
He said it appears some of the individuals involved simply were not aware of district policies, which he said "is on us in some respects for not providing appropriate and ongoing training."
"Unfortunately, in some instances there are relationships between how donations are received and extracurricular opportunities for our students," Horsley said, "and we want to make sure every kid has equal opportunities to participate based on their skills and abilities and not because of donations or other outside influences."
Scott Cate was a Cottonwood booster for about a decade who donated millions of dollars to the school's athletics programs. He was also an assistant football coach during that time until he was ousted in July when the Granite School District enacted a policy preventing people who donate more than $300 in a year from being athletic coaches. He wasn't impressed by the talk of putting more controls over money donated to athletics.
"I'm out of the business of trying to help public high schools. I have no idea why anybody in the business world would try to tell you how to spend your money. It's a sad day, because I know a lot of people who try to do right by their school, and you have to wonder why even get involved," Cate said.
Leaders of the other three districts, however, also agreed to follow the auditors' recommendations to improve.
"The auditor really validated some of the adjustments that we've been making and we're pleased that, in collaboration with the auditors, we were able to identify a few other areas that needed attention, and we'll continue to work on to improve," said Jennifer Toomer-Cook, spokeswoman for the Canyons district of which Alta is part.
Auditors found Alta did not adequately document how much money was raised from certain fundraisers. They also found a lack of formally approved policies and procedures for fundraising. Toomer-Cook said the district has already purchased cash registers for concessions to better track sales and is updating the district's accounting manual and scheduling training sessions.
Weber district spokesman Nate Taggart said his district also welcomed the audit and is addressing the issues it raised at Fremont. Auditors found inadequate separation of financial duties at the school; a lack of policies and procedures related to football summer camp fees; and a lack of controls over cash receipt and fundraising.
For instance, when auditors asked about $1,425 in revenue missing from a choir fundraiser, the choir teacher found $1,100 of undeposited checks and cash in his office that were up to 8 months old.
Davis district also is working to address concerns, including inadequate separation of financial duties and inadequate controls over cash receipt, fundraising and cash payments, spokesman Chris Williams said.
Among other things, auditors recommended the State Office of Education develop best practice guidelines, including internal controls, for districts to include in their own policies on fundraising, donations, advertising, sponsorships and booster clubs.
The state office already held a number of training sessions for district employees earlier this year to address such issues, and is now creating a new rule to guide the use of cash related to school sports and activities.
Martell Menlove, state deputy superintendent, said the new rule should address most of the issues outlined in the audits. He said the state office hopes to help districts and educators avoid such pitfalls in the future.
"There are some individual situations that cause some concern," Menlove said, "but I think overall we have people who are trying to do what's right but may need some additional help."
Tribune reporter Kyle Goon contributed to this story.
Audits reveal financial issues at high schools
Cottonwood High • Granite School District did not properly oversee or account for construction projects funded by donations, including a weight room, baseball practice facility, press box and football field. Cottonwood also made payments totalling more than $27,000 to a single vendor for multiple invoices without getting proper competitive bids.
Alta High • Alta did not adequately document how much was raised from certain fundraisers, such as from ticket sales for a cheer event and concession sales for football games. Auditors also found fundraising policies lacking.
Fremont High • Auditors found inadequate separation of financial duties; inadequate policies related to football summer camp fees; and a lack of controls over cash receipt and fundraising.
Davis High • Auditors found inadequate separation of financial duties, inadequate controls over cash receipt and fundraising. For example, the drill team did not keep records of concessions sold at an event, making it impossible to determine whether all the money was properly deposited.