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WACS Receives Good Marks On Audit

WESTFIELD — Westfield Academy and Central School District received good marks from the independent auditing firm of Buffamante Whipple Buttafaro, school board members learned in a presentation at a recent meeting.

In the report presented by auditors David DiTanna, Michael McLanahan and Danna Isaman, the district received an unmodified opinion, which is the highest mark given.

“An unmodified opinion is the gold standard,” said McLanahan.

The auditors prepared their presentation using questions submitted earlier by board members, DiTanna said. McLanahan addressed a question regarding the net position of the district, which decreased more than $600,000 from the previous year.

However, McLanahan said this is not a cause for concern.

“Overall, it has to do with the fact that there was a $1 million pension expense,” he said. “The district has little ability to influence that expense.”

He noted that, if the expense was removed, the district’s overall net position increased by about $300,000.

The auditors also addressed concerns that expenses exceeded revenue in the general fund by $575,000. McLanahan said this is because of transfers out of the general fund of $1.45 million. Of these transfers, $1.1 milliion went to cover anticipated costs in the capital improvement project.

“From an operational standpoint, there is no need for the district to be concerned,” McLanahan said.

If the transfers were taken out of the picture, the district would have a surplus of more than $500,000 in the general fund.

The only recommendations for change that the auditors noted were in the area of internal controls, DiTanna said. They involved adjusting journal entries; segregation of financial duties; and the fact that the unassigned fund balance is more than the 4% required by the state.

“We are required to put in this finding because WACS fund balance is at 10%,” he said.

The auditors also told board members that in looking at the general fund asset comparison, it is important to remember that there was a decrease in payments for substitute teachers and for travel.

“Transportation costs were also down,” DiTanna said. “Transportation was better than budgeted by $135,000.”

DiTanna told board members that the entire audit procedure was agreeable.

“I think it was a really good process,” he said. “We appreciate everybody’s efforts and thank you for everyone’s cooperation.”

In response to the auditors’ presentation, board vice-president Steve Cockram said that it would require six people in order to have sufficient segregation of financial duties.

“We are too small a district to have that many people,” he said.

Cockram, commenting on the unassigned fund balance, also reminded the board that the 4% recommended by the state only provides two weeks of operational funds.

“We believe we need more of a buffer,” he said, noting that the state is currently withholding aid, and districts need to use their fund balances to stay afloat.

In other business, Elementary Principal Mary Rockey gave board members a report on baseline data for ELA and math. The data reflects changes in the percentage of students who are below grade level.

Rockey noted that students in the primary grades show the largest gaps in learning, while 4th and 5th grade students have negligible differences. The younger students did not have a chance to master their skills before the school closed, she said.

In response to a question from board member Tom Tarpley about the reason for the significant change in the primary grades, Rockey said she has no firm facts, just a hypothesis.

“My gut says they didn’t have the 12 week break that they usually have. They had close to a 30 week break,” she said.

In response to a question from Tarpley about the elementary students attending school five days a week, Rockey said that, starting on Oct. 26, the pupils will be in the building every day. She noted that the second and third weeks of October are scheduled four-day school weeks.

In a related matter, Molly Anderson, curriculum director, reported on the student well-being survey and provided assessment updates to board members.

Anderson told board members tha the district will be using the Panorama Social Emotional Learning survey this fall for students in third through 12th grades. She also said that all state assessments and exams are proceeding as planned; however, a decision on holding January Regents will not be made until the end of October.

Regarding the baseline data which Rockey presented for English language arts and math, Anderson said she would “take it with a grain of salt” because, with both remote and in-person learning, the process is not as controlled as it was before COVID.

“It still provides us with a lot of important academic information on students’ needs in reading and mathematics,” Anderson said. “But we need to be intentional in using that data along with the other assessments that our classroom teachers are using to get a solid picture of how to best meet every child’s educational needs.”

Secondary principal Corey Markham updated board members on athletics extracurricular activities at WACS. He said they are waiting for guidelines from the state regarding basketball. He said the students are playing soccer, but football and volleyball “are not going to happen until March.”

Markham told the board that some transportation is a factor for a lot of districts, and many are making two trips to games because a limited number of students are permitted on a bus.

Markham also told board members that some clubs are starting to get together. Members of Westwinds, band and builders club are having some meetings, he said.

Markham also reported on the senior class of 2021, especially in regards to a planned trip to Allegany State Park on October 28.

“They were very excited about doing something as a group,” Markham said. “Some of them haven’t seen each other since March.”

The trip was subsequently approved by the board. Board president Wendy Dyment said, “I like the idea of the short day trip for the seniors. Anything that can be a whole class experience is wonderful.”

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