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Louise Epstein, Chairman: Email To School Board Concerning School Board Audit Committee

April 9, 2012 by Louise Epstein

[Email from Louise Epstein, Chairman of FEC, to the School Board Members sent on Monday, April 9th.]

Dear School Board Members:

The Fairfax Education Coalition (FEC) noted with interest your recent Forum discussion about the composition of the School Board Audit Committee. We were pleased to hear Board members comment about the need to look at the full range of Audit Committee options. In connection with this topic, we haveseveral suggestions.

As a threshold issue, we believe it would be helpful to list all voting members of school board committees on your Board Committee page on the FCPS website:

http://fcps.edu/schlbd/committees/board-liaisons.shtml

Many people would be surprised that the Superintendent and Deputy Superintendent are voting members, and the FCPS chief financial officer is a nonvoting participant, on the School Board Audit Committee. These facts are disclosed in FCPS Policy 5410.4 and FCPS Regulation 1420.3, and we believe it would be useful to also provide this information on the FCPS web page aboutboard committees.

In light of your recent Forum discussion, we also looked at the structure of the Audit Committee of the Board of Supervisors, which has six members - four Supervisors plus two private citizens appointed by the Supervisors:

http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/bacs/fairfax_board.asp?lookup=22010

Fairfax County managers are not voting members of the Board ofSupervisors Audit Committee, consistent with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act rules for publicly traded corporations and the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) best practices for government audit committees. As the GFOA states, an audit committee “provides a forum separate from management in which auditors and other interested parties can candidly discuss concerns.”

http://www.gfoa.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1451

In light of the above, FEC recommends that the upcoming discussion about the School Board Audit Committee look at whether to continue the current School Board policy of allowing members of management – such as the Superintendent and Deputy Superintendent – to participate on the Audit Committee.

We also suggest that you consider other best practices in the GFOA report, including the recommendation that all members of the audit committee possess or obtain a basic understanding of governmental financial reporting and auditing and have access to at least one financial expert. When considering that and other best practices recommendations, you may want to look at guidance provided to school boards in New York.

http://www.osc.state.ny.us/localgov/schoolsfa/accharter.pdf

At your recent joint retreat, we were happy to hear about the many efforts to increase collaboration with the Board of Supervisors. Given this improved collaboration, we also hope that you will consider working together on the audit function. For example, having learned about the benefits of the Independent Auditor for the Board of Supervisors, we also support having FCPS hire an independent auditor with a similar job description who would report solely to School Board members.

Sincerely,

Louise Epstein

Chair, Fairfax Education Coalition

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