An audit of the Montclair public school district’s finances for the 2021-22 school year recommended seven corrective actions, all but one of which are considered housekeeping issues by the auditors.

The audit found some contracts for unaffiliated, or nonunion, employees were not executed; compensated absence liability, the paid time off stipulated in collective bargaining agreements, was not updated; individualized education plans did not always reflect the services claimed on the district’s Extraordinary Aid applications; outstanding balances on student food service accounts were not being settled; procedures regarding student activity funds were not followed; the Application for State School Aid contained different counts than the on-roll report; and capital assets records were not updated.

Three of the corrective action recommendations — regarding food service accounts, student activity funds and capital asset records — were also included in the 2020-21 audit. That audit contained four total recommendations.

The district hired Nisivoccia, LLP to conduct the audit, which was presented to the Montclair Board of Education at its Monday, April 10, meeting. Nisivoccia has conducted the district’s audits since 2013, partner Valerie Dolan said during her presentation.  

“Most of those items are what we would consider housekeeping,” Dolan said. “They're not major critical problems in the district. They're just areas that we come in and feel like you can always strengthen.”

The audit reflects the district finances under previous business administrator Nicholas Cipriano,  who disappeared from district affairs in March 2022 without an explanation from administrators. The current administrator, Christina Hunt, joined the district in summer 2022.

The board unanimously voted to accept the audit’s corrective action plan at its meeting. 

The only recommendation considered not housekeeping by the auditors is in regard to management of individualized education plans, Dolan said. 

During the review of the district’s special education Extraordinary Aid — additional aid given to districts with classified students who have expenses over a set threshold — the auditors found that services claimed for the aid did not always match the services listed on individualized education plans. 

“The services were being provided to the students,” Dolan said. “But I don't know if the IEP reflected the fact that that was a service they should be receiving.”

The issue is around “documentation more than anything else,” she said. 

The plan recommends that all students’ plans include services provided and selected on the Extraordinary Aid application, and that “extra care be taken” to ensure all costs are calculated correctly. Hunt should review the aid application before its submitted, the plan says. 

David Goldblatt, the interim director of pupil services, and the four supervisors of pupil services will be responsible for adhering to the recommendation, the audit’s corrective action plan says. 

Another one of the audit’s findings has a long history in the district. Student accounts have owed the district money for food services dating back to 2015-16, according to the annual audits. The corrective action plan recommends that the district evaluate and collect or cancel the account balances, and review open balances bi-monthly for collection or cancellation. These responsibilities fall to school principals and the assistant business administrator.

Board members discussed at the Monday meeting that ensuring all families fill out the free or reduced lunch application would help to address the outstanding balances. 

“We don't want to essentially shake down our parents for the $3.50 lunch when parents, some of them, many of them, probably can't afford that money,” board President Allison Silverstein said. 

Another finding, mishandling of student activity funds, has appeared in the district’s audits for about a decade. The finding dates to at least the 2013-14 school year, the oldest audit available on the district website. 

In 2018, the district created a new procedures manual for the handling of student activity funds and provided training for all principals and secretaries, according to previous audits. The policy is strong, and Nisivoccia shares it with other districts looking for guidance, Dolan said. But the issue is adherence to the policy, a problem that the auditor said she sees frequently. 

The 2021-22 corrective action plan recommends the district continue to communicate standard policies for all student activity funds and work with the custodians of school accounts, often teachers, to reinforce procedures. The assistant business administrator is responsible for this recommendation, the plan says. 

To address another finding — employee contracts not executed for the unaffiliated employees — the corrective action plan recommends the district ensure that employee contract procedure is followed annually. At the Monday meeting, Hunt announced that she and Damen Cooper, director of human resources, had looked into the issue and “going into next year, it will be taken care of.”

In the final three findings, the auditors ask the district to ensure compensated absence liability is updated annually, maintain and report accurate records of low-income students and students who apply for free or reduced lunch on state aid applications, and update its capital assets inventory. 

The capital assets inventory will be difficult to maintain as the district undergoes $187.7 million in repairs and upgrades at the schools, Dolan said. She recommended that the district be diligent in its record keeping as items get moved around and disposed of during construction, and that inventory records be updated as projects are completed.