Cash payment for teacher retention attracts auditor interest

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MARYSVILLE – A payment of $ 400 to every teacher in the Marysville school district has come to the attention of state auditors, fearing that it may not be considered a donation of public funds because the school board has failed specified what the money was used for.

They also raised concerns about a program offering employees up to $ 2,000 as an incentive to notify the district early of their intention to retire.

Auditors targeted these incentive payments in a May 19 letter to the school board that accompanied the agency’s review of the district’s financial operations and record-keeping, including payroll, contracts and purchases, during of the 2019-2020 school year.

Overall, the district received an impeccable audit as the agency concluded that operations “were in compliance, in all material respects, with applicable state laws and regulations and its own policies, and provided checks and balances. on the protection of public resources “.

But in the separate management letter, the auditors commented on how the district manages memoranda of understanding (MOUs) used to amend collective agreements.

They noted that while the board approves collective bargaining covenants, it lacked policies or procedures for approving memoranda of understanding, which can sometimes contain substantial changes to larger agreements.

“As a result, the district does not have adequate controls to ensure that memoranda of understanding are appropriately approved in accordance with state law and council expectations,” the letter concludes.

Two situations mentioned in the letter relate to cash incentives for employees.

One was for a provision of a memorandum of understanding between the district and the Marysville Education Association in October 2019. It contains a provision for a one-time payment of $ 400 to each teacher in April 2020. The association represents approximately 720 instructors. .

“The payment was made in 2020 and was intended to provide an incentive to continue work in the Marysville School District at a time when there was a teacher shortage and incentives from regional and national districts to fill vacancies,” Jodi Runyon, spokesperson for the school. district, wrote in an email.

The board did not discuss or formally approve the holdback payment at a public meeting. However, the intention to agree to the changes for these purposes was shared with board members, Runyon said.

The district made payments of $ 288,000, according to auditors.

Incentive programs are allowed but must be set up beforehand with guidelines on how employees can qualify to receive them, said Kathleen Cooper, spokesperson for the state auditor’s office.

In this case, to avoid the appearance of a potential donation of public funds prohibited by the state constitution, the district had to establish clear criteria for allocating them, which would show that employees were going beyond their normal duties. , she explained in an email.

The second question stems from a memorandum of understanding in January 2020 with all groups of workers regarding a single “retirement incentive” allowance. Employees who submitted an official letter of retirement by February 14, 2020 could receive up to $ 2,000, as part of the agreement. Employees working less than full time would receive a prorated amount. About $ 70,000 was paid last year, according to auditors.

The retirement incentive is an annual offer. It is beneficial for the school district to have early notification for planning and budgeting purposes, Runyon said.

Districts are facing a May 15 deadline to notify teachers if they could be made redundant. Knowing early on who is going to retire could reduce or eliminate the need to send out those downsizing notices, Runyon explained.

Auditors want the school board to adopt formal policies on how the retirement incentive program will be managed before offering it, Cooper said. Agency staff raised a concern verbally for the first time at the end of the verification process last year. This alerted the district that it would be reviewed this year, Cooper said.

The neighborhood reacts.

“We have drafted a policy that is being reviewed by the policy committee before it goes to the board of directors,” Runyon said.

The intention of a letter of recommendation is to highlight areas requiring improvement in the eyes of auditors. No penalties are imposed, and that in no way detracts from the flawless audit released by the agency, officials said.

The letter ends with recommendations to the board of directors to adopt policies to enter into and approve memoranda of understanding and provide incentives.

“These recommendations are intended to raise awareness of the steps the district needs to take before offering the same or similar types of compensation,” Cooper said. “Whether they choose to continue with these programs or not, our goal is to ensure that they take the appropriate steps to ensure that these and other programs are properly authorized in advance and in accordance with state law.”

Reporter Jerry Cornfield: [email protected]; @dospueblos




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