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State audit raises questions about high school budgeting

By Sam Penrod | Posted - Nov 8th, 2012 @ 7:50pm

SALT LAKE CITY — A state audit of how Utah high schools manage their money and donations has found widespread issues of how that money is documented. In some cases, the report says school administrators had no idea about the money coming in through school boosters.

Most schools do fundraising for school athletics or clubs and it could be everything from selling candy bars to holding a car wash. But a random audit of four different schools, in four different districts along the Wasatch Front, uncovered problems auditors believe could exist at almost every school in the state.

Fans lined up to buy tickets for the state football playoffs at Rice Eccles Stadium on Thursday afternoon. At the same time, donations to athletics or other extra curricular activities are under scrutiny. After uncovering problems with how money was handled at Timpview High school, the state auditor decided to look at more schools.

Alta, Cottonwood, Davis and Fremont were all randomly reviewed, and the issue is now front and center with the Utah State Office of Education.

"I think many people would be surprised at the amounts of money and I think they would also be surprised about how casually those funds are sometimes maintained," said Utah State Office of Education representative, Carol Lear.

The most scathing audit involves Cottonwood High, where several problems were identified. Public funds were deposited and held in private bank accounts including school money combined with booster club funds and a football camp held on school property, but the coaches kept the proceeds.

Granite School District says practices have changed.

"When those donations are received, they become the property of the district," said Granite School District spokeman, Ben Horsley.

In other words, donations must come with no requests or strings attached. Granite says its new donation policy is meeting resistance from some boosters.

"This has not just been a problem in sports," Horsley said. "It has been a problem in a number of our programs and so when parents look at the actions we are taking, we want them to recognize it's in an effort to best protect students."

The audit also recommends that the school, not the booster club, receive all donations, to ensure funds are managed transparently.

"Taxpayers have a right to know where their money is going, have a right to see ledgers and books that account for that, and that hasn't always been available in the past," Lear said.

The State Office is now offering training for school districts on how to manage booster club money. And the State Board of Education is moving forward with a new policy that would apply to every school in the state, to both monitor donations and to help keep the playing field level everywhere.

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