East board fuming over audit

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Independent auditor blamed for delays

By Mercy Lopez

For several years, Las Vegas City Schools has been behind on its financial audits.

This time they’re blaming the auditor. During a board meeting late last week, the board directed Superintendent Sheryl McNellis-Martinez to ask Albuquerque-based Griego Professional Services to turn in the 2011-12 school year audit this past Friday to the State Auditors Office. McNellis-Martinez also expressed her concern over the work and timeliness of Griego Professional Services and the resulting problems the district has had because of the delay.

The audit hadn’t been submitted to the state Auditor’s office as of Monday morning, the agency’s staff told the Optic.

The auditing firm hadn’t responded to messages left by the Optic as of press time.

McNellis-Martinez told the board she has been in constant contact with Griego in an effort to get the district current on its audits.

“Mr. (J.J.) Griego and I are at a point where we are trying to resolve the audit,” McNellis-Martinez said.

During Thursday evening’s board meeting, she told the board that earlier during the day she received what she believed was the final copy of the findings.

“We have submitted the management response to those findings …,” McNellis-Martinez said. “We have yet to receive a final draft, and there are many inaccuracies that we saw in the previous presented draft, to include meeting dates and titles of members. They are not of significant type, but at this point as we are late, we know the Office of the State Auditor is going to be scrutinizing it very carefully.”

The district’s tardiness on the audits has caused havoc in financial stability, although McNellis-Martinez said that the district’s financials appear to be in good shape.

She added that her conversation with Griego revealed the audit would be done at the end of last week.

McNellis-Martinez told the board that she was concerned about the work done by Griego Professional Services. She said she has voiced her concerns to the state Public Education Department and the Office of the State Auditor.

“My concern is that it has not been completed in good faith and in a timely manner,” she said. “I am waiting to hear back on any of the possible remedies that are available to us at this point. Mr. Griego is well aware of the frustration of not only myself … but also the board.”

McNellis-Martinez said the delay of the audit is holding up various items including the sale of bonds, the 2012-13 audit, and the purchase of an activity bus.

Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration has been withholding capital outlay funds from entities that aren’t up to date on their audits.

Board member Felix Alderete stressed that he wanted the audit  completed by the end of last week.

Alderete expressed his frustration about the tardiness of the audit.  

“If this an independent auditor, his opinion is his opinion…,” he said. “If he feels he is at a final point, why doesn’t he just submit the audit to the state auditor with our management letter attached and with whatever concerns the district has. … He can’t hold the district hostage in this way, and I don’t see the need for him to delay submitting the audit if he has come to an opinion.”

Board President Gloria Lovato-Pacheco said Griego is accusing the district of holding him hostage by the district’s disagreements on his opinion.

“We have within the last couple of days determined to agree to disagree,” McNellis-Martinez said.

She said some of the findings did not match, due to cut-and- paste.

“There wasn’t a way to comprehend the finding without discussing it with Mr. Griego so we can appropriately respond,” McNellis-Martinez said. “Additionally, there will be findings I’m presuming that will have no violation of local board policy, regulation, state statute or federal regulations in which Mr. Griego wants to put a finding in… This has been very frustrating.”

She said the district would not be receiving an adverse opinion on the audit, but did not go into detail on the findings.

“We are not going to receive an adverse opinion; we are either going to get a qualified audit or an unqualified audit… so, please let us move forward,” Alderete said. “We (ask) the superintendent through this directive to contact the independent auditor to tell him to get that audit completed tomorrow (Friday), over to the State Auditor’s Office with our management letter accompanying it, which can dispute any finding that he has.”

Board member Luis Ortiz also expressed his frustration in the tardiness of the audit.

In a telephone interview with McNellis-Martinez Monday evening, she reported she informed Griego of the board directive, but has not seen the audit personally.

After the submission of the audit, the state auditor has 45 days to review it.

“The current language as it sits in Mr. Griego’s findings is inflammatory,” McNellis-Martinez told the board. “My forewarning to you is that it will be discussed; it is a public document, and you will be asked to answer for it. … We did try to correct ahead of time to what the actuals show, but it has been a very difficult process with Griego Professional Services.”

Board Vice President Ernesto Salazar said, “I think it is time for Mr. Griego to be held accountable. ... There needs to be some type of liquidated damages assessed against Mr. Griego. We haven’t even put a dollar figure on what it has cost us not having a good activity bus to get our kids out there… Mr. Griego has really let us down.”