Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Six thefts of funds found at Seattle Community Colleges

by November 28th, 2012

A letter from the Washington State Auditor’s Office, quietly slipped into the meeting agenda documents packet this month of the Seattle Community Colleges Board of Trustees, reveals that a College investigation verified six distinct instances of vanishing public funds from 2010 to 2012 totaling $7,240 and couldn’t determine who was responsible in any of the cases. They involve four different campuses of the College. The letter’s author, SAO Fraud Manager Sarah Walker, concludes, “we recommend the College strengthen internal controls to ensure adequate oversight and monitoring to safeguard public resources.” The school now says it has done that.

According to the letter to the board, the College reported the six misappropriations to the state auditor and conducted its own investigation to determine how much was lost; how; and who was responsible. The auditor’s office then reviewed the college’s probe and verified the findings. In February 2011 in the Food Service Department on the North Seattle campus, two deposits went missing and a change fund was raided, resulting in a loss of $4,665. A month later at the College’s vocational institute in Seattle’s Central District an $1,810 deposit went missing from the Administrative Services division. In March 2012 a $450 deposit vanished from a mail cart left unattended at the Central Campus on Capitol Hill. In March 2011 at a food service location on the South campus in West Seattle, an uncorrected $315 cash shortage occurred.

The College was not able to determine who was responsible for the vanishing funds for a variety of reasons. The SAO letter said that these included “not limiting access to money that is ready for deposit,” several employees having access to the funds in question, and lack of normal cash receipting procedures.

The SAO letter also confirms another piece of the College’s original investigation: there was no accounting for the value, frequency or recipients of wine given away or donated by the College’s winery program to “auctions, promotional events, retirements, and other events” because there were no inventory controls in place and no policy “regarding the allowable use of wine.”

The College’s Communications Director Patricia Paquette says that in response to what it discovered in its investigation, the school has taken a number of corrective steps to prevent similar problems from re-occuring. These include, she said, “new processes and procedures, changes in personnel, targeted internal control staffing, and additional training to staff and faculty in the respective areas.”

It’s not the first time the College has had to tighten up its financial operations. A 2001 state audit found that a recreation coordinator at the College’s South campus had misused a work procurement card to buy about $2,000 in personal items plus another $26,000 worth of buys for which there was no documentation, or receipts with the purchase details cut out. He was discharged. The same audi found the College’s central administration had overdrawn its state funding by $1.4 million and that it’s North campus had overspent its cash balance and reserves by $1.7 million. These matters were later rectified.

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