Federal program snafu forces Ed Dept. to add audits

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The Mississippi Department of Education will likely have to pay another $96,000 to an out-of-state accounting firm to audit an additional five federal programs.

State Auditor Stacey Pickering

Sereena Henderson | Mississippi Today

State Auditor Stacey Pickering

State Auditor Stacey Pickering’s office directed the Education Department to expand its yearly audit, citing an error by the department that resulted in the loss of many federally funded after-school programs for low-income students.

Last school year, department officials overspent Title IV funds, known as 21st Century Community Learning Center funds. When the officials discovered the deficit, they then used Title I funds to fill the hole, which is not allowed.

The cause of the misspending of federal funds “were due to internal control deficiencies, either in their design of their implementation,” states an Oct. 11 letter from the state auditor’s office to the Education Department.

“Due to the centralized oversight of federal grants by (the Education Department’s) Office of Federal Programs, (the State Auditor’s Office) must consider these internal control deficiencies to be pervasive, and must consider the likelihood that additional federal programs have also been affected,” the letter continued.

In August, State Superintendent of Education Carey Wright announced she would fire three employees as a result of the error. More than half the school districts that had received Title IV funds the prior year did not receive any for the 2016-2017 school year. Title I and Title IV refer to sections of the federal Elementary and Secondary School Act that provide federal financial assistance for specific education needs.

The State Board of Education at its meeting Thursday will be asked to approve an additional $96,000 to the department’s current contract with CliftonLarsonAllen, raising the total contract costs with that firm to $293,930. The extra $96,000 will allow the firm to audit five additional programs for fiscal year 2016.

CliftonLarsonAllen is a Minnesota-based accounting firm. The firm settled a lawsuit in 2013 after it overlooked a $54 million theft of city funds in Dixon, Ill., by its longtime city treasurer, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Although the state auditor regularly audits the state education department and other agencies, the office told state education officials it would not be auditing their agency this year due to changes in the state budget. The state auditor then asked the department to ensure it allocated money to pay a CPA firmto handle the audit.