IWCS receives clean audit for 2021-22 despite finance department turnover

Published 3:46 pm Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with the name of Isle of Wight County Schools’ new chief financial officer.

Auditors have issued Isle of Wight County Schools a clean opinion on accounting for the 2021-22 school year, despite high turnover in the school system’s finance department that culminated with the public resignation of its former chief financial officer last fall.

A clean or “unmodified” opinion is an industry term used by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants when auditors determine an organization[s financial statements are presented fairly. Robinson, Farmer, Cox Associates auditor Aaron Hawkins, addressing Isle of Wight’s School Board via teleconference on Feb. 9, stated the opinion means the school system’s end-of-year statements “can be relied upon” for accuracy.

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Rachel Trollinger, who’d previously served in the school system’s finance department from 2016 through early 2021, rejoined Isle of Wight County Schools as its CFO in August following the departure of her predecessor, Steve Kepnes, in May. Trollinger then tendered her own resignation on Oct. 24.

During the public comment period at the board’s Nov. 10 meeting, Trollinger contended she’d found evidence while working on year-end bookkeeping for the 2021-22 school year in preparation for the then-upcoming audit that federal grants awarded to the division had gone “unprocessed in a timely manner,” resulting in cash flow shortages.

Hawkins noted that despite the clean opinion, his firm had issued a letter to the school system confirming IWCS had indeed delayed requesting reimbursement from the federal government for expenses to be paid with COVID-19 pandemic relief funds.

“You all had spent a lot of money up through June 30, and a lot of it hadn’t been requested for reimbursement yet … to the tune of about $3.6 million,” Hawkins said.

Reimbursement requests should ideally be made monthly, and at a minimum no less than quarterly, Hawkins said.

The letter recommends year-end reimbursements be submitted between July and August so that the funds are received within 60 days of the end of the calendar year. The letter also took issue with the high staff turnover and resulting delay in providing the auditor with firm numbers.

“There was basically no one in the finance department that had any real involvement during the year. … The numbers kind of kept changing on us,” Hawkins said.

The letter characterizes its recommendations as “opportunities for strengthening internal controls” and asserts they are not “material weaknesses.” Internal controls refer to failsafes intended to prevent bookkeeping errors. A material weakness refers to control deficiencies that result in a reasonable possibility of a financial misstatement.

IWCS officials stated at the Feb. 9 meeting that a new CFO has been hired. On Feb. 17, IWCS spokeswoman Lynn Briggs announced the division had hired Larisa Harris, who previously served as director of accounting for Portsmouth Public Schools.