State audit critical of Dayton schools for missing 2016 athletic money

Welcome Stadium hosts Dayton Public Schools football games as well as district athletic offices.
Welcome Stadium hosts Dayton Public Schools football games as well as district athletic offices.

For the fifth time in seven years, Dayton Public Schools’ annual state audit includes a “finding for recovery” of mishandled money. But this year’s finding has nothing to do with finances from the audit year of 2019-20, instead dating back to 2014-15 and 2015-16.

The report, issued Thursday by Ohio’s Auditor of State office, recounts how $16,657 from six athletic events held at Welcome Stadium went missing from DPS’ accounts — an issue the Dayton Daily News reported on as it was discovered.

Explore2016 story: DPS discovers football ticket money is missing

The auditor’s office on Thursday issued a finding for recovery for $16,657 against former DPS athletic secretary Julie Vestal, who retired in 2016. The audit also says former Athletic Director Jonas Smith “will be jointly and severally liable in the amount of $16,657.”

The rest of the annual audit deals with DPS’ finances for the 2019-20 school year. The auditor’s office issued an “unmodified” (clean) opinion on the district’s financial statements for the second year in a row. They also reported no material weaknesses or significant deficiencies for that year.

On the finding for recovery, the state audit spells out the regular procedure that Vestal (the ticket manager) and others followed after ticketed events at Welcome Stadium.

Vestal would reconcile cash receipts and create a deposit report, putting the cash and paperwork in a money bag that was placed in an unlocked filing cabinet drawer in the Welcome Stadium office, according to the audit.

Explore2017 story: DPS says employee is paying back athletic money

The next day, the cash and paperwork would be driven to DPS’ administration building downtown and included in a secure pick-up to the bank, with the receipt posted to the district accounting system.

But the audit says during those two years, there were six stadium events where the deposits matching the paperwork were never made.

The issue came to light in 2016 after DPS hired its own internal auditor, Randall Harper, to investigate potential improprieties in the district. Harper issued two reports in 2016 and 2017 detailing this problem.

At the time, Harper said an unnamed employee was paying the district for the missing money.

“The individual responsible for the funds at that time, I do not believe it was theft on their part,” Harper said in 2017, saying the unnamed person had just failed to follow procedures. “Obviously someone did steal the funds at some point. … If the procedures on timely deposits were followed, that could have mitigated this.”

Explore2020 story: DPS gets cleanest state audit in years

Dayton Public Schools’ response to the issue is included in the audit document released Thursday, starting with their statement that the problem happened “under the previous Board, Superintendent and Treasurer” rather than current staff. They say the state has been investigating the issue for the past five years.

District officials pointed out multiple steps they’ve taken to “minimize such occurrences” in the future. They include creating an operations manual with detailed instructions for cash handling, requiring three signatures on deposit reports, installing a safe for overnight cash storage, and moving ticket sales online.

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