Audit: ASD needs to improve handling of student fees, other cash payments

Michelle Theriault Boots

The Anchorage School District has not been doing a good enough job of safeguarding the $27.5 million it collects each year in cash for parking fines, concessions and other fees, an internal audit found.

ASD officials say they are "responsive" to the report's findings and are working to tighten a system that puts small amounts of cash in the hands of activities clerks, secretaries, teachers and assistants across the district's more than 90 schools.

In the past, a few of those people have taken advantage of the system in criminal ways.

The audit, released on Nov. 27, came just over a week after a former East High secretary who stole more than $135,000 in students' activity fees admitted in court to the largest theft in district history.

Gayle White, 46, pleaded guilty to second-degree theft on Nov. 18 in a deal with prosecutors.

In 2011, White was working at Chugiak High when officials discovered she had pocketed $5,000 in student fees.

Later police learned White had stolen far more from East students and parents between 2006-2009, when she was an activities secretary at the school.

She has been ordered to pay back the money.

In 2012, another former Chugiak clerk, Brenda E. Burge, pleaded guilty to stealing $75,000 worth of fees over several years.

The two cases weren't related, authorities said.

The district asked for the audit in order to "ensure that we are minimizing our exposure to theft and fraud," finance executive director Sue Jolin wrote in an e-mail.

The "cash controls" audit came about when the school board's finance committee requested it, said Peter Raiskums, the head of the municipality's Internal Audit Department. For the past year or so the school district has funded a position within Raiskums' department devoted to district auditing. The partnership is meant to save money, he said.

In her investigation of how the district handles cash payments, auditor Brenda Peña conducted "surprise cash counts" at 12 randomly chosen district schools during the 2012-2013 school year, Raiskums said.

The audit's nine major findings include:

• Teachers and cash handlers didn't always provide receipts to students and parents.

• Manuals for handling cash weren't universally followed.

• Cash wasn't always deposited in a timely manner and at times exceeded a daily limit of $1,500.

• Cash-collection duties weren't properly segregated between employees .

• Decentralized bank accounts for some schools are unnecessary.

The ASD is developing a plan that will address the system's weak points, Jolin said. It will include more training and a review of procedures.

Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at or 257-4344.