County, school board agree on audit, school district to pay bill

The Ennis School Board agreed to fund a special comprehensive audit of their financials dating back to 2004 at a special meeting with Madison County Commissioners last Tuesday.

The board voted unanimously to pay up to $60,000 to pay for the audit, which should begin soon, said Ennis superintendent John Overstreet.

The issue of the audit has been swirling between the county commissioners and the school board for nearly a year. Commissioners have consistently pushed for a comprehensive audit dating back to 2004 and pushed for the school district to pay for it.

The school board in turn told the commissioners they would be open to the audit, but were noncommittal on paying for it.

This spring, the school board and commissioners agreed to get bids for the audit and then make a decision on what type of audit to conduct and who would pay for it.

At issue is money levied for and spent out of the adult education and transportation funds. Officials with Madison County, including the county treasurer Shelly Burke, deputy county attorney Chris McConnell and the three county commissioners, have been concerned that money from those funds was spent improperly.

In February, Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock issued an opinion saying the school district shouldn’t have built the new school with funds from the adult education and transportation funds. After Bullock’s opinion came down, the Madison County Commissioners sent a letter to the Ennis School Board demanding an audit of a variety of funds going back seven years. The audit, the commissioners stated in the letter, was the only way to determine how the school district used taxpayer money and allow the community to move past the controversy that’s plagued it for more than two years.

Initially, the school board was concerned the price for an audit like the ones the commissioners were pushing for would be up to $200,000. However, all the bids for the audit came back at less than $60,000.

Since the last joint meeting with county commissioners and the school board, the make up of the school board has changed and the newly elected board members campaigned in support of an audit of the school district’s finances.

The school board voted Tuesday to use Denning – Downey and Associates out of Kalispell to perform the audit, Overstreet said.

Madison County Commissioner Dave Schulz was pleased with the meeting and that the audit is moving forward.

“I’m encouraged that the school board took the lead on it,” Schulz said. “I believe that with the new board and a new administrator and a lot of interest in the finances of the Ennis School District over the last several years, it’s in the district’s best interest to find some resolution to this and put it behind them.”

Overstreet was also pleased to move forward. Since he was hired as superintendent this spring, he’s heard a lot about the audit.

“I have friends on both sides of the issue and both sides feel it would be really good for the school,” he said.

Though no timeframe is set for completion of the audit, it should start quickly, Overstreet said. District clerk Ginger Martello has been preparing for the audit and has everything in order for the auditors.

“They will work directly with Ginger and she’s got everything pretty well laid out,” he said.

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