Charter schools are always subject to scrutiny because they draw money from public schools in the district.
Their charters are re-assessed every five years, and they are subject to annual financial statement audits, and compliance audits if they use more than $750,000 in federal funds, as well as agreed-upon procedures audits under some circumstances, including an initial assessment of internal controls, within 120 days of when their charters are issued.
In addition, outside New York City, the New York State Comptroller randomly audits charter schools. Those audits are based on the New York State Department of Education “Charter School Audit Guide”. Heveron & Company partner Jeanne Beutner, CPA provided some input into the development of that audit guide, so consider contacting Jeanne if you have questions about the audit guide.
Knowing the issues that came up in these audits can help you assess your operations and avoid similar deficiencies.
According to a CPA Journal article authored by Marie Blouin, PhD, CPA and Ronald Huefner, PhD, CPA, 54 charter schools have been audited over the past six years. The article confirms that procurement, payroll and other payments, as well as information technology procedures were common concerns, but contracts with sponsoring organizations, conflicts of interest, space issues and residency and billing issues were most common.
Concerns with respect to sponsoring organizations included:
- lack of evidence of board review and approval of contracts,
- lack of evidence of review of payments to sponsoring organizations,
- inadequate detail about services that were actually being performed, which led to a question about whether the school may be making duplicate payments for the same service,
- lack of documentation that services were actually received,
- payments based on revenue when that wasn’t a reasonable basis for services performed, and
- lack of evidence that the that the board perform sufficient oversight for budgeting and finance.
Specific conflicts of interest noted in these audits included:
- in two cases there were loans from board members to the school. Such loans are prohibited,
- a board member was a partner in a law firm that provided services to the school, and
- a board member was an investor in a company that leased a building to the school. 10 of the 54 audits contained recommendations regarding residency and billing. This is always a challenging issue especially when students move during the school year.
- In one audit a student moved three times during the year and the school had no proof of residency. As a result one district refused to pay a bill,
- in another case, a charter school with students from five districts was initially denied $300,000 of funding related to 120 students. Most of this ultimately got resolved but not without significant additional effort. The message here is that you need to have a strong ongoing process to determine what school district students belong to and to stay up-to-date with relocations.
GuideStar’s website states that one of the questions they get most frequently is “How can I get my organization added to your database?” They go on to explain different circumstances.
For example, GuideStar won’t list organizations that don’t yet have IRS approval for their exempt status even if approval has been applied for. GuideStar will list organizations once IRS publishes them in the Business Master File, but that process takes months, so it is okay for you to send IRS approval information directly to GuideStar.
Some organizations such as churches, or organizations that file a combined return, won’t get listed by IRS, so you will have to contact GuideStar and provide necessary information. For example, religious organizations that have not applied for recognition of exempt status to IRS and which have their own employer identification number must provide information about the year they were established and other information confirming their status (GuideStar lists 3 different sets of documents that are acceptable). Organizations that are part of a group ruling must provide a copy of IRS confirmation of their employer identification number and documentation that the organization is an official chapter or affiliate of the national organization.
Guide Star even provides procedures for small nonprofits with a charitable fiscal sponsor to become registered.
You can contact GuideStar by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, by fax at 757-229-8912 by mail to GuideStar, 4801 Courthouse St., Suite 220 Williamsburg, VA 23188 or visit their website at GUIDESTAR WEBSITE.