Clean audit for Columbia schools

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It was business as usual for the Columbia School Board during this month’s meeting on Thursday. 

As Columbia Superintendent Chris Grode explained, the district underwent a more in-depth audit for fiscal year 2020-21 as it received more federal funding than usual due to the COVID pandemic. 

Jim Schmersahl of Schorb & Schmersahl LLC, described it as a “happy audit” while summarizing key findings for the board. 

He said there were no discrepancies in expenditures, and all provisions and conditions associated with federal grants were followed and more. 

“In all ways, the audit went very much textbook, as you would want it to be,” Schmersahl said. 

He mentioned “unusual items” for revenues and expenditures related to the pandemic, such as sports fees being obsolete as they could not field an audience, as well as a tech fee not seen in years prior, which provided a new revenue line item. 

Grode discussed one source of revenue that was particularly low after the meeting.

“(The audit was of) last school year and that’s why our food service was so low,” Grode said. “We spent a lot of time not in school, and although we did provide lunches externally, they were nowhere near the number of lunches that we normally serve in a day.” 

With the board approving the audit, Grode said the district will now get an annual financial report to submit to the state. 

Grode also told the board there will be ongoing discussions regarding potential growth. He said that with this “committee of the whole” style, the board will discuss the district’s facilities at each regularly scheduled meeting and may hold special meetings on the topic as well. 

This comes with the development of new housing that could bring new families with it. 

“We have to do an analysis of ‘How much room do we have? How many families do we think we’re going to get?’ and ‘What does the school district need to do to make sure it properly meets our families’ needs?’” Grode summarized. 

As of now, there is not enough space at Eagleview Elementary to add more classrooms, Grode said. 

The district is looking for community input on which Illinois Association of School Boards proposed resolutions they should support and oppose. The full list of proposed resolutions can be found under the “Board of Education” tab on the district’s website, columbia4.org. 

To weigh in on the resolutions, community members may email the board to have emailed statements read or to speak during the public comments portion of the Nov. 17 meeting. 

As Grode mentioned to the board, a child safe gun storage item is particularly contentious. 

If adopted, this resolution would require IASB to “support and advocate for legislation which strengthens child safe gun storage laws in the state of Illinois, requiring gun owners to store firearms, whether they are loaded or unloaded, in a securely locked container if a person under the age of 18 is likely to gain access to the weapon without permission,” the report said. 

The recent multi-district lawsuit regarding COVID mandates and school procedure was briefly mentioned. Depending on results of the Nov. 5 court hearing, the district’s COVID-19 policies on masking and exclusions, which are dictated by Gov. JB Pritzker’s mandates along with Illinois Department of Public Health and Illinois State Board of Education, may change. 

“Whatever they rule on Nov. 5, which is a Friday, an email will go out over the weekend to inform the parents as to what was the court’s decision so that on Monday (Nov. 8) they know where we stand regarding the temporary restraining order,” Grode said. Read more about the lawsuit by clicking here.

The board approved the resignation of three retiring bus drivers and the transportation administration assistant. 

“If you have a CDL and you want to drive a bus, we would love to hire you,” Grode said. 

The next Columbia School Board meeting will be at 7 p.m. Nov. 17 in the district board room at 5 Veterans Parkway, Columbia. 

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