By Julia Debes - Public Affairs Staff Writer
That’s why, since taking office in January 2007, she has worked to implement a number of new and more efficient ways for state auditors to serve their clients. The goal of one such initiative has been to test the possibility of completing school district audits within 60 days of the fiscal year’s end.
“The timelier an audit, the better it is for everyone involved,” said Pat Wooldridge, assistant chief deputy auditor at the Ohio Auditor of State’s office. “When the entity receives a more rapid turn-around of audit information, they can more quickly improve their operations in accordance with the audit’s recommendations.”
To judge the potential for a 60-day audit turn-around, Taylor’s office selected five school districts to participate in a pilot project beginning in July 2009. In 2010, a total of 11 districts were selected for a second trial.
Because the fiscal year for Ohio school districts ends on June 30, pilot project audits were conducted in July and August, when school was not in session. This timeframe not only allowed auditors to complete audits more quickly in most cases, but also gave fiscal officers additional time to devote to their other responsibilities during the schools’ busy fall season.
In a typical school district audit, financial auditors first test cash flow and payroll, then wait for the district to prepare GAAP financial statements, most often with assistance from the Auditor of State’s Local Government Services section (LGS). Financial auditors then return and the audit is completed. The full process typically requires four to seven months. In the 60-day audit process, auditors from the Financial Audit and Local Government Services (LGS) sections of the Auditor of State’s office worked together to complete all their assignments at the same time.
Because the GAAP conversion and auditing processes were performed concurrently, there was immediate resolution of questions and adjustments.
“We didn’t do anything different than we would do in a regular cycle,” Unice Smith, chief of LGS, said. “But having everyone working together at the same time really expedited the auditing process.”
Smith and Wooldridge both stressed that for the 60-day audit process to succeed, all parties – state auditors and school fiscal officers – must be committed to dedicating the entire 60 days to a single project.
Bob Hinkle, chief deputy auditor at the Ohio Auditor of State’s office, explained, “We can demonstrate that GAAP conversions and audits can be done over a shorter span of time, but it requires a change in current practices.”
Hinkle emphasized that the 60-day process is not feasible or even desirable for every entity, and not every audit can be completed within 60 days. However, success of the pilot project demonstrates the potential for expanding the program in future years or offering even shorter timeframes when appropriate.
“The timely audits completed in these pilots saved clients money, gave management a quality product to utilize in decision making and provided better information for the public,” he said.