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City Finance Director Reviews School Department's Business Office

Finance Director Laura Sitrin presented her findings after evaluated the Newport School Department's business office.

City Finance Manager Laura Sitrin presented her findings regarding an evaluation of the school department's business office during a joint workshop between the Newport School Committee and the Newport City Council on Wednesday night.

The evaluation was at the request of the School Committee and the City Council after questions about the efficiency of the school's business office arose earlier this year. The report included observations and recommendations from Sitrin to address process issues in the business office.

Sitrin stated in the report that the evaluation was not directed at specific personnel.

“They [personnel] have all suffered through constant turnover and turmoil in the school business office in the last couple of years, and have continued to do their jobs to the best of their abilities,” Sitrin wrote.

Sitrin completed the evaluation through interviews with school business office and administrative personnel, observations while visiting the school department and general knowledge on the interaction between the City and School business offices.

Sitrin presented the following observations:

  1. An overall lack of coordination and accountability between and within the school's administrative departments, including Human Resources, Accounting, and Business Operations and Technology.

  2. Job descriptions and function don't match in some cases and work Is unevenly distributed.

  3. Many employees do not know how to use the Lawson system, and it is not being used efficiently.

  4. A lot of time is spent by staff researching and correcting errors.

  5. Unclear what, if any, purchasing regulations are being followed.

  6. There is no proper oversight of vendors or contractors in some cases.

  7. Financial information was improperly record and not corrected in a timely manner.

  8. Checks are not always deposited in a timely manner.

  9. Certain budget information was prepared on a summary level where a more detailed process would have been more helpful.

Currently, the City and school departments have “significant collaboration between personnel regarding payroll, cash and other business functions."

Sitrin wrote that there should be further consolidation, should the School and City departments request it.

“It is clear that such consolidation would provide more efficiency, oversight and internal controls over accounting and payroll functions. It is less clear as to what, if any, dollar savings in personnel would be generated,” she wrote.

Any monetary savings would be found several years in the future.

A complete consolidation of departments may never be possible, Sitrin added, due to the legal structure of schools and municipalities in Rhode Island. There is also a conflict of interest regarding the budget between the city and the schools, she said.

At a minimum, the school department would need its own budget officer and financial monitor.

Sitrin did recommend that purchasing and human resources should be consolidated.

“Consolidation of the purchasing function would not only provide a level of expertise the school doesn't currently have; it would also. . .[make] sure the school district's financial records are complete and accurate.”

Consolidating the purchasing area would also free up the Director of Administration/Business Manager position to focus on high level responsibilities.

Sitrin, along with School Business Manager Joan Tracey will move forward with creating an action plan on further steps towards consolidation.  

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