— By CHRISTIN COYNE
After recently obtaining records that they had sought for months in order to audit the Blue Belles Parent Club books, a Weatherford ISD audit team found that there did not appear to be any significant issues with the group’s financial records.
The auditing report also presented a list of recommendations to improve the BBPC’s financial practices, many of which have already been implemented.
Three Weatherford ISD employees, including Director of Communications Charlotte LaGrone and two administrative assistants, performed an audit of the group’s books following the Texas PTA audit process (though the Blue Belle Parent Club is not an official PTA) after spending time organizing the records provided to them by former treasurer Stephanie Kirwin.
Amy Wilkins, a parent of a Blue Belle who also serves on the Weatherford ISD Council of PTA Officers, said she began asking the BBPC questions a year ago about following bylaws and procedures, as well as about records showing where the BBPC money goes. She eventually spoke with Weatherford ISD Superintendent Jeffrey Hanks and reporters at
two newspapers about her concerns.
“The executive board is done answering the issues of the article and financial concerns from Ms. Wilkins,” Amy Munnell told those attending a BBPC meeting Thursday night, Munnell detaled some of the changes the parent booster club is making regarding financial practices. “We have cooperated with the Weatherford ISD and the district attorney’s office with no findings of any financial concerns. We have improved our practices and will continue to do so as needed.”
The audit by the school district employees was done because of the change in treasurer and to allow the new treasurer to step into a fresh set of books, according to Munnell, who said the audit did not occur in reaction to recent news articles regarding financial practices by the BBPC.
“The audit report that you are getting right now confirms what we suspected from the very beginning – that your former treasurer was very diligent about keeping up with the records for the organization,” LaGrone said.
For 100 percent of the transactions there is documentation or explanations for each income or expense item, LaGrone said of the more than a year period they looked at.
“When we began asking for records in October, we were told everything was boxed up and was in storage,” LaGrone said. “And I am sure that’s true because when Amy collected the box it was covered in dust. The box was full of the documentation that we needed and that we asked for a couple of months but we finally did get them. They were unorganized but they were what she had. And I’m sure that she was probably embarrassed to give them to us in that state but it was time for her to turn them over and she did.”
It took about 40 hours to organize the records, according to LaGrone, who said Kirwin also provided the QuickBooks files for the nonprofit organization.
“We honestly did not see anything to indicate there was any mismanagement of funds,” LaGrone said.
One important thing they noted was that on deposit slips, where the money was coming from and going to was detailed, a great practice, according to LaGrone.
Three checks had not cleared from one account, seven from another account, immaterial exceptions that did not affect the audit, according to LaGrone, who said she suspects they are voided checks. She suggested the BBPC should consider a “stop payment” request for the 10 checks.
Some recommendations for improving handling of records included limiting use of the club’s debit card and requiring prior approval with two signatures, assigning two people to count and record the amount of cash when cash is collected, making deposits by the end of the next business day, keeping more documentation and having an annual audit of records.
“We recommend that you have an audit in three months, that would be about the end of May,” LaGrone said. “That’s just to ensure, for your protection, for your knowledge, that the changes that we’re recommending have been made and implemented.”
Kirwin was very diligent recording transactions in QuickBooks but probably could have used support in organizing records, LaGrone said in response to one parent’s suggestion that the club appoint another person to assist the treasurer.
The group’s new treasurer, Erica Freeberg, has already put in at least 120 hours of work for the BBPC, according to Munnell.
The new monthly treasurer’s report was praised by several parents in attendance.
“I want to say this is much better,” one parent said. “This is much more detailed. This is what I’ve been looking for. This is similar to what I mentioned a few years ago.”
The parent said she asked the prior treasurer why she didn’t run more details and never received a good answer.
LaGrone said she believed that part of the confusion that possibly started the recent controversy might have come from a profit-loss statement that was a snapshot from a month, rather than the entire year’s income and expenses.
Freeberg said she’s also had a lockbox installed and put in place procedures for how that is used to cut out the middle man in handling cash.
Munnell also fielded one question from a woman who said that she thought that, according to BBPC bylaws, freshman parents weren’t supposed to hold office.
“In there it also says that board and the director make the decision on the treasurer’s position,” Munnell said, adding that Freeberg intended to step in at the beginning of the next school year but the prior treasurer stepped down several months before the end of the year. “We are talking about a little change in plans. We are talking about a few months and the board made that decision.”
“I’m simply asking. We don’t want to have any more of this,” the parent said, holding a copy of the newspaper. “This has made it very difficult for all of us.”
“So that is why Erica stepped into the position now,” Munnell said. “We had two or three different people we were looking at, who were qualified and wanting to do it because it takes many, many hours but we did make the decision to step Erica in sooner, rather than later.”
“We need to be above board in everything we do now that people are looking,” the parent said.
“I would like to remind everyone that the sole purpose of the BBPC is to support the directors and our most precious assets, our belles,” Munnell said in a statement to the group. “I am very proud to be a part of this organization.”
“Now we need to band together and illuminate the black cloud that hovers over us tonight,” Munnell later added before receiving standing applause from many in the crowd. “As the belles say, ‘we’re great when we’re together, no good when we’re apart.’”
LaGrone and others stressed that the parent club’s board is a group of volunteers and the number of hours required is equivalent to a part-time or full-time job.
If parents see that others might be struggling, LaGrone urged them to offer to assist with the tasks.