Education Dept. makes progress in contracting, accountants say

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Results from a recent audit show that while the Mississippi Department of Education has made progress in its financial and contracting procedures, the agency still has work to do with the way it tracks federal grants.

At a State Board of Education meeting Thursday, representatives from accounting firm CliftonLarsenAllen presented findings from a June 30, 2017 audit of specific financials, as well as a single audit. The Minnesota-based firm conducted the audits on behalf of the State Auditor’s office.

In September, a scathing legislative report suggested that the department bid and spent improperly on numerous contracts for similar services. The report prompted State Auditor Stacey Pickering to heavily criticize the department for poor contracting procedures.

Pickering’s office also conducted a compliance audit and forensic audit of MDE — the compliance audit confirmed many of the conclusions produced from the legislative report. The forensic audit was ordered by the U.S. Department of Education because former state education officials mismanaged Title I and 21st Century Community Learning Center, or after school, funds in 2016.

As a result, MDE Chief of Operations Felicia Gavin told the board in October that the department enacted a series of contracting changes to improve operations.

On Thursday, principal accountant Bill Early told the board “while we did have findings, the number of findings was reduced from the previous year so progress has been made.”

Early said his firm’s audit of department financial reporting found the federal grant schedule was incorrectly prepared, meaning they were tracked as a group and not by individual grant, and some vendor payments were not recorded in the correct fiscal year, among other financial compliance matters.

After the CliftonLarsenAllen report, State Board of Education Chair Rosemary Aultman thanked Gavin for “pulling us out of a mess.”