Although past and current Lyons-Brookfield School District 103 officials disagree about how they got there, all agree their financial house is not in order, leading the school board to take two steps at a special meeting Aug. 13 to rectify the problems.
The board voted 6-1 to hire the district’s accounting firm of Baker Tilly to review six months of financial reports to synch the district’s financial records with those of the Lyons Township School Treasurer’s Office and to develop processes to ensure those records are accurate moving forward.
The board also voted 6-1 to create a staff accountant position to help handle the additional workload.
All agree the problems started more than a year ago when the school board accepted the former administration’s recommendation that the district replace its accounting system with a new system called Skyward.
Skyward was intended to bring in-house a number of processes previously handled by the Township School Treasurer’s Office. The Skyward system was installed in January and ran parallel with the old accounting system at the beginning.
According to Kyle Hastings, who started in May as District 103’s interim superintendent, Baker Tilly identified problems when they started working on 2014-15 audit in July.
Hastings said he brought the problems to the attention of Jacqui Parisi, the business manager who started in late June, who also had noticed discrepancies.
Kevin Slattery, the former business manager, said he helped with the initial setup of Skyward but was not involved with the implementation, because he left before the system was fully live. Hastings and Parisi said the two systems only ran parallel for two months.
Slattery also noted that the Township School Treasurer’s Office also changed systems, which might have contributed to the problem.
Now district officials are asking Baker Tilly to address discrepancies between Skyward and district personnel processes, causing balance sheet problems; identify errors relating to the recording of property tax revenues and state and federal aid payments; and reconcile Skyward records with those of the Township School Treasurer’s Office.
Hastings contends that the problems arose because the previous administration failed to create the accountant position a year ago. The problems would not have occurred had additional staff been available, he added.
“It wasn’t appropriately done by the prior administration and board,” Hastings said. “It’s my job to clean this up.”
According to the letter of engagement approved by the school board, Baker Tilly will be paid between $97.50 per hour to $225 per hour, depending on who performs the work, with the district paying less for a staff accountant/administrator and more for a partner.
Board member Joanne Schaeffer, who cast the lone dissenting vote on both issues, said she voted against creating the accountant position, because it is a duplication of current staff positions and against hiring Baker Tilly because “it sounds like an audit.”
“I know we need some help,” she added. “But I thought Baker Tilly was just going to straighten things out.”
Schaeffer said she is concerned that the district might wind up paying Baker Tilly as much as $70,000 or $80,000. Hastings declined to estimate how much it would cost or how long it would take, saying that Baker Tilly will provide frequent updates.
“We’re hoping for sooner rather than later,” he added.
Parisi said Baker Tilly staff members will be working side-by-side with district employees rather than from their office, which will allow district staff to learn the new procedures more quickly.
Schaeffer, who was on the board last year when the decision to switch to Skyward was made, said board members were led to believe that Skyward would make it easier for district staff, not require additional staff.
Hastings said that did not turn out to be the case and that two district staff members are “up to their necks” in additional work. He said he already is conducting interviews for the accountant position, noting he is looking for the “most qualified candidate.”
Although he said he hopes to fill the position by the next board meeting, he is more concerned about finding the “right person for the right job.”