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Audit: Northern Arizona school district had financial resources and food wasted

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(The Center Square) – A school district in Apache County will make changes following financial findings from the Arizona auditor general.

“[The Sanders Unified School District] spent more on salaries and benefits in all operational areas than its peers, lacked internal controls and did not comply with important requirements in multiple areas, putting public monies, sensitive computerized data, and District property at risk,” said the report, which has five major findings.

The district did not properly “consolidate school operations,” resulting in unnecessarily low capacities and an estimated $697,000 that could have been used “more effectively,” according to the audit.

The district said it is working on ways to not waste resources resulting in how capacity is handled and resources are managed, but said that it had to do with enrollment numbers.

“We are working with the Facilities Oversight Board to assist us since there is not enough space at either school to consolidate. Enrollment is increasing after suffering a large decrease, which should fill some of the space. An update of present square footage usage is being conducted to ensure the current report at FOB is accurate,” the district stated in its response explanation.

In addition, there was also an issue related to the waste of school lunches. The report found the food service contractor was at times providing too many meals that did not match the accurate number of students buying lunch, among other accountability issues, to make sure funds were being used widely with the food service contractor that the district will need to improve upon.

The district is also going to update its “Safety Inspection Checklist” and other measures to make sure that “preventative maintenance” for buses is conducted.

The last two findings were more technical, as they pertained to credit card usage and information technology. The district agreed to ramp up both monitoring of expenses, as well as beefing up cybersecurity protections.

In total, the school district has 24 recommendations to prevent the issues from occurring again in the future.

“The District would like to share our appreciation for the audit team and the professionalism and assistance provided to our staff while conducting the audit. After review, the District agrees with the findings and recommendations,” Superintendent Kim J. Pearce wrote in a letter in December.

There are three schools in the district, an elementary, middle, and high school. Niche, a website that ranks schools, gives the district a D+ overall grade.

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