Patterson Joint Unified School Board held its first in-person meeting since schools closed their doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The meeting was also live-streamed through the Webex platform as previous meetings have been.
No public comments were made before the presentations began.
Assistant Superintendent Jeff Menge, gave an overview of agenda topic XI. A., the Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team (FCMAT) report for the Associated Student Body Operations. FCMAT is independent of the state and provides auditing and accountability action ideas to manage financial oversight.
There have been some long-standing concerns about repeat findings in the ASB’s financial records keeping.
The audit found there to be a lack of oversight by the adult ASB leadership, which likely contributed to the FCMAT findings. Although previous training had been provided in partnership with Merced County and the use of ASBWorks accounting software was supported by the district several policies were not followed.
ASB has been found not to maintain its revenue tracking. There was a lack of supporting documentation for bank deposits, inaccurate accounting of bank deposits that includes bank deposits that don’t match cash sales records, co-mingling of district and ASB revenues and unreconciled bank accounts.
Several board members asked questions about future oversight and accountability in the program since this has been a “long-standing” concern. Michelle Bays encouraged the adult ASB leadership to teach the ASB students better accounting practices by having them work on the financials during their weekly class time.
Menge and Superintendent Phil Alfano were hesitant to place blame or claim that the oversight was malicious or theft.
In response to the FCMAT report that was supplied to PJUSD and Stanislaus County Superintendents office, new processes have been put in place to secure the program’s integrity and those involved.
Dual custody of all cash is required by the adult ASB leadership. Each person will be responsible for counting monies and signing off on the amount. ASB will use a tamper-proof money bag that will be deposited regularly. The ASB Board members must meet and agree on any purchases before the spending of funds are allowed, and the PJUSD will be overseeing ASB approved expenses.
Online options will be encouraged for future purchases and fundraisers. Eliminating cash expenses will improve the ease of revenue tracking.
Ongoing training and policy changes to remove risks will continue “at least until the situation is under control”, Menge remarked. Menge committed to updating the school board after the quarterly reviews to keep the board members aware of the outcome of the new policies.
Menge then presented on agenda item XI. B., the Tentative Budget Overview for the 2020-2021 school year. The budget is to be adopted on June 15. It has been revised to account for the expected state budget cuts.
The budget will likely have to be revised due to the tax extension date to accommodate the COVID-19 pandemic. Menge stated, “We don’t want to take action until we have more solid data from the state.” That data is expected in July after Gov. Newsom signs the state budget. The 45-day budget revision period begins in August.
In the meantime, a conservative budget has been presented that accounts for a potential 5.5 million dollar shortfall. With Menge’s acknowledgment, “whatever level of reduction we see will carry over for the next three years.”
Expenses allocated for social distancing precautions at schools have been sourced from a one-time funding budget specifically for COVID-19 expenses. Plexiglass shields, shades for outside eating, and expenses that cover new safety and cleanliness standards will come from that budget.
The district has come up with both short term and long term strategies to manage a reduced budget. All of the strategies have the same goal: budget cuts must have the least amount of impact on student learning. While there is potential that furlough days could be experienced during the 2021-2022 school year, that is a situation the Superintendent’s office hopes to avoid.
Short term strategies that will help the district meet fiscal stabilization goals, maintain solvency, and protect classrooms are as follows:
n Current vacancies will only be filled if they are deemed essential.
n Grant-funded positions will end.
n Categorical program funds will be exhausted.
n All travel and conferences will be frozen, and professional development will be eliminated to reduce the need for substitutes.
Superintendent Alfano presented his report on agenda item XII. A., the 2020-2021 School Opening Update.
Alfano is cautiously optimistic that schools may be able to open at full capacity with some restrictions in place. In regard to those restrictions, Alfano said, “The CDPH shifted responsibility to the county.”
CDPH is the California Department of Public Health. Among other functions, the office is charged with a fundamental responsibility to infectious disease control and prevention, patient safety, emergency preparedness, and health equity.
Alfano is meeting with public health on June 3. Hopefully, the outcome of that meeting will be more exact guidelines about how the district will be allowed to open for the school year.
While concrete direction is yet to be given by the county, PJUSD is brainstorming multiple plans at once.
Allowing for the possibility that some students and their families may be fearful of returning to school initially independent study and distance learning will be made available. The expectation is that those who choose to do so may be required to commit to a full grading period to prevent disruption to classes and instruction.
“We were ahead of this. We do not have any cases traced back to the schools”, Alfano said. Confident that the district is planning accordingly to address the “new normal” that will greet students and teachers in the fall.
Agenda items XIII-XV were approved without comment in alignment with the budget revision where necessary.