High school finances receive high marks
The Martha's Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) district received high marks from its auditors, in a financial summary presented to the school committee Monday.
Chris Rogers, a certified public accountant with Sullivan, Rogers and Company, told the committee, "The auditors' opinion is unqualified, the same as it has been for the last three years — that's the best opinion you can receive."
The auditors reported that the MVRHS district's total net assets increased by $128,851 in fiscal year 2005 (FY05). Governmental funds, which include 177 individual funds maintained by the district, totaled $1.4 million in FY05 compared to $1.3 million last year. Member town assessments for the high school came to $9.8 million.
The auditors' management letter made recommendations for improvements in several areas, including suggestions for new accounting and financial reporting for retirees' health benefits and for preparing and recording line item budget transfers throughout the fiscal year.
The auditors advised the high school to tighten up procurement procedures by obtaining three quotes for purchases between $5,000 and $25,000, and submitting purchase orders for purchases between $100 and $4,999.
Although improvements have been made since last year's audit in the registration process for summer clinics, Mr. Rogers said this year there were still some missing forms for tennis clinic participants.
He also targeted the student activities fund maintained by the high school for some needed improvements. In some cases, donations, purchase of supplies and equipment did not match up with the definition of a student activity. There also are seven individual student activity fund deficits and class balances remaining from graduated classes dating back to 1981. The auditors recommended verifying that the funds maintained match up with designated student activities, preventing deficit spending by any student activity and disbursing remaining funds from graduated classes.
Other suggestions from the auditors included improving the accounting system's security to reduce the risk of use by unauthorized personnel, and to implement a fraud risk assessment program. Mr. Rogers said he will help Amy Tierney, assistant to the superintendent for business affairs, set the program up.
Mr. Rogers also discussed the financial implications for the school district in operating its own school bus system. Buying buses will save some money, he said, because the high school can purchase them with non-taxable bonds. The money saved could be put into a "rolling fund" to be used for purchasing more buses as others become fully depreciated, he said. James Weiss, superintendent of Martha's Vineyard Public Schools, said there also are savings in insurance costs, with the district paying about half of the amount formerly paid by the private contractor.
In other school bus related business, Mr. Weiss announced the transportation subcommittee would meet Tuesday night to discuss the continued operation of the school bus service and the hiring of a manager to run it. The committee will begin reviewing the resumes of six people who have applied for the position.
Mr. Weiss also announced the results of a state report on the dropout rate in Massachusetts. The MVRHS dropout rate at 1.7 percent for 2003-2004 was significantly below the statewide average at 3.7 percent. The school also demonstrated a significant decrease in the dropout rate since two years ago. For the class of 2006, to date there have been seven dropouts out of 222 students.
A dropout is defined as a student who leaves a school anytime during the school year and does not reenroll by October 1 of the next year, explained Margaret (Peg) Regan, MVRHS principal. If the students' whereabouts can be officially documented, they are not counted as dropouts, she said. "Our guidance department does a phenomenal job in tracking them, so we don't lose them," said Ms. Regan.
Studies show that 55 percent of students who drop out in their junior or senior year do so because they do not pass the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS), Mr. Weiss said. However, the high school is addressing the needs of such students by offering three concrete programs, he added, including MCAS tutoring, night school, and classes at the Rebecca Amos Institution.
In her principal's report, Ms. Regan said the high school budget process is nearing completion, with two more meetings of the budget subcommittee scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 10, 6 pm, and Monday, Nov. 21, 8 am. She will present the budget at a public hearing with the all-Island selectmen in the school library on Thursday, Dec. 1, at 7 pm.
Regarding school activities, both Duncan Pickard, president of the Student Council, and Ms. Regan shared observations about the success of a special retreat focusing on racial and cultural awareness attended by 40 students and 2 faculty members. Another recent event was the induction of new students into the National Honor Society, including 50 juniors out of a class of 200.
At Ms. Regan's request, the school committee approved funds for a group of students to attend a Model United Nations conference and another group to attend a sailing regatta in Austin, Texas.
The school committee also joined Mr. Weiss in congratulating one of their members, Diane Wall, who was named to the All-State School Committee at an awards banquet held recently in Worcester.