Indian River school board gets ‘clean’ audit

PHILADELPHIA — At the Indian River Central School District’s Board of Education meeting Thursday evening, members in attendance were presented with a summary of findings from the district’s independent financial audit conducted by Bowers & Company in Watertown.

The findings were presented by Laurie Podvin, highlighting important aspects of the complete report from Bowers, a document of more than 100 pages.

“This was our first year doing a remote audit, so we just want to extend our appreciation to the business office,” she said. “There was a lot of scanning that had to be done and it was trying at times, so we just want to extend our appreciation to them for that.”

According to the audit report, the Indian River district has continued to maximize various sources of grants and funding, resulting in an average tax rate of $3.27 per $1,000 of assessed value and $3.17 per $1,000 of true value — as determined using state equalization rates for those jurisdictions not at full assessment — for the tax year beginning September 2020.

These rates include the library tax levy collected annually to support the district’s community libraries. Prior year rates were $3.30 per $1,000 on assessed value and $3.22 per $1,000 on true value. The report stated the district’s tax levy was flat from last year.

“You’re considered a low risk auditee for single audit, meaning you did not have any significant deficiencies or compliance findings in the prior year audits, the last two audits,” Ms. Podvin told the board. “So overall, a very clean audit for the district.”

In the coming days, Indian River district families will receive their Impact Aid questionnaires. Impact Aid, funding for schools associated with federal/military properties, makes up 20% of Indian River’s anticipated funding for this year. This funding is used to provide services to all Indian River students, not just military-connected students, and helps maintain essential programming, personnel and facilities to help meet the high demands of modern education.

More than half of the district’s student population comes from military families. This density enables the district to take advantage of Federal Impact Aid administered by the U.S. Department of Education. This aid, when used in conjunction with New York State Aid and local real property tax contributions, provides the basis for the district’s financial standing.

Ms. Podvin noted the district’s current assets, mostly cash and investments, are about $47 million and state and federal aid receivable is just about $8.3 million. Capital assets, which are fixed assets less depreciation, are about $113 million.

“Your long term debt, your bonds and your other post-employment benefits is $109 million compared to $84 million, so an increase of $25 million,” she said. “That’s an unfunded liability, which drives the unrestricted deficit, so it’s a culmination of years of reporting that liability. So, your net position, still positive $30.9 million. A lot of districts are in the negative, so Indian River, just with the nature of how your revenues come in and with Impact Aid and reinvesting into your district, improving the campus has allowed you to stay as a positive net position.”

Ms. Podvin also highlighted a comparison between the district’s revenue to budget, with revenue 25% higher than what was budgeted. Indian River had budgeted to take a new $72.9, instead taking in $91.5, the big flux there being due to Impact Aid. She stated that the district budgets conservatively, which she thinks is a good idea.

On the expenditure side, unspent money in the district’s budget was about $8 million, about 8.7%. Ms. Podvin said this was a good place for the district to be in. If a district gets close to 4%, she said it shows they don’t really have a lot of room in their budget. Over 10%, and a district might have some fluff there, so Ms. Podvin said the district is right where it should be.

Utilizing a fiscal monitoring system to show some indicators as far as if there is some fiscal stress within the district, the auditors chose two that had to do with fund balance and general fund unassigned as a percentage of the expenses. In graphs comparing the Indian River district with other school districts Bowers covers, referred to as the “industry,” Indian River is at 16.4%, with the industry at 10.2%.

According to Ms. Podvin, cause of concern for fiscal stress would be 3% or under, so Indian River is strong in that regard.

Before closing, Ms. Podvin noted in doing a risk assessment for the district, Bowers noticed the district has not adjusted its IT risk assessment long range plan, at least in writing.

“With everything going on with COVID, there’s a lot of remote access and a lot of changes,” Ms. Podvin said. “The people that seem to want to create havoc have stepped up their game and so there’s a lot of issues that are out there, so I think it’s a good time to look at the risk assessment, see if there’s any weaknesses and addressing that — whether it’s hardware or software or operations, a plan should be in place.”

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