— By SALLY SEXTON
After more than a year of questions regarding financial practices of the Blue Belles Parent Club, including the inability of an outside group to perform a financial audit of the non-profit booster club, steps are being taken to ensure better practices and organization.
Amy Wilkins, a parent of a Weatherford High School Blue Belle who also serves on the Weatherford ISD Council of PTA Officers, said she first began noticing issues in December of 2012 after a breakdown in communication at a Blue Belles event.
“I know about bylaws and non-profits so I just started asking, ‘Where are the bylaws? Who is in charge of communication? Who is in charge of fundraising?’” she said.
After attending more parent club meetings, Wilkins noticed that copies of profit-and-loss statements were handed out to parents, but no budget.
“I raised questions about that, about following procedures,” she said. “I wanted to see a budget. As a non-profit organization, you are required by the IRS to be transparent. You should be able to show where the money goes.”
From tax filings dating back to 2009, records show that the 80-plus-member drill and spirit group takes in and spends anywhere from $90,000-$120,000 yearly through dues and fundraisers.
Wilkins corresponded with then-treasurer Stephanie Manning Kirwin, inquiring about the budget and where to find it, but to no avail, she said.
Last June, Wilkins said she met with WHS Principal Lynn Pool as well as district administrators, including Weatherford ISD Superintendent Jeffrey Hanks, in an attempt to get her questions and requests answered.
“She wasn’t getting the answers she was looking for,” Hanks said.
Hanks originally told Wilkins that because the BBPC was a non-profit operating outside of the district, there was not much WISD could do.
But after more correspondence, Hanks and the district in September formed a three-person auditing committee comprised of WISD Director of Communications Charlotte LaGrone and administrative assistants Lisa Wulfjen and Jana Worthington.
“I think it was obvious at that time that the record-keeping was not good,” Hanks said. “At that point, the district stepped in to form a committee to handle an audit.”
The committee announced its findings in an audit report dated Nov. 13.
“An actual audit could not be performed because incomplete documentation needed for 2012-2013 was provided,” the report read. “While bank statements for September 2012 through May 2013 were provided, we did not have access to the following: a copy of the last audit report; the checkbook, cancelled or voided checks, and all unused checks for all accounts; copies of checks written and accompanying documentation; deposit receipts; treasurer’s books and ledgers; the annual financial report; and all receipts of bills paid.”
BBPC president Amy Munnell said the idea of conducting an audit was the plan all along, since Kirwin was planning to step down at the end of her term.
“The Blue Belles Parent Club had sat and talked about doing an audit just because we were getting ready to change treasurers,” Munnell said. “We knew she was going to step down and it was time for [current treasurer Erika Freeberg] to step in.”
Though the executive board members’ terms do not end until the end of the school year, Kirwin announced her resignation in December, and Freeberg took over as treasurer Jan. 7.
“It was just bad timing,” Munnell said. “For personal reasons, [Stephanie] took her daughter out of the district, then instead of waiting until the end of the school year and, because her daughter was no longer in Blue Belles, she could no longer be treasurer.
“She was in the process of moving and everything, including documents, was in storage. I made the decision to move forward with the audit with whatever we had because I thought it would make us better. I wanted to give everything to the next treasurer better than we found it.”
Since the initial audit report was released, Munnell said more financial documents have been recovered and turned over to the committee.
“Everything is completely there now, to the best of my knowledge,” she said.
A BBPC meeting scheduled for Tuesday was postponed and is rescheduled for next Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at the high school. Reviewing of documents is listed on the agenda.
“Instead of not having everything together and dragging it out over two or three meetings, we wanted to wait until we had every paper and every result before we presented everything to the parents,” Munnell said. “An audit is being conducted as we speak, and we hope to be able to present the results of that Tuesday.”
Moving forward, Hanks said that the district will provide assistance to the group in order to help them reorganize, including possible training for officers and defining policies such as those conducted by the Parent-Teacher Association.
“We want all boosters to understand that we value the relationship between them and the district, and we will help them in whatever way we can,” Hanks said. “They are all volunteers who give up their time and we made the decision to step in not only to protect them but to protect the best interest of the kids as well. They have to have trust with the public.”
Munnell said that the executive board has already begun implementing improved policies, including requiring two signatures on checks, new cash handling forms, new cash counting forms and new forms for a request of payment or invoice.
“Those were all put in place at the beginning of the year,” Munnell said.
Previously, only one signature was required on checks, and Wilkins said she witnessed one occasion where cash was scooped into a purse without being counted.
“The executive board is going to sit down and look at different finance software out there and figure out the best one that would represent our spending,” Munnell said. “That way, we will be able to present that at every monthly meeting. Previously, we had provided monthly loss-and-profit statements, but those were not very detailed.
“We’re going to come up with something more detailed. That way, if anyone has any questions, we will be able to answer them at meetings.”
All parties stressed that while several documents were missing during the committee’s initial audit process, there was never any question of intentional wrongdoing.
“I just want accountability,” Wilkins said. “By law, the BBPC should be transparent in their books.”
“There was never an accusation that anyone was stealing and that’s not how it was presented to me,” Hanks added. “They’re all good people with good hearts and if we can help them establish standardized practices and record keeping, just showcasing a lot more transparency, then we’ll help them as much as we can.”