In our opinion: Handling sports money: Audit reaction an example of how government should work

Published: Saturday, Nov. 17 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

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In the wake of a state auditor's report detailing problems with the way schools manage money raised for athletic programs, officials are pledging to enact and enforce better policies. It is exactly the kind of response we expect from the education establishment.

Auditors looked at how four school districts manage the considerable number of dollars donated by booster clubs and acquired in fund-raising drives to support sports programs and other activities. The audit uncovered a troubling lack of methods to account for and control the funds, opening the door to potential abuse.

Now the districts singled out have promised to examine their respective policies and work to ensure they are adequate to the task. We encourage the 37 other school districts in Utah to follow suit.

Likewise, we commend the state office of education for launching a training program for administrators and coaches. Also in response to the audit, the state board of education is considering a uniform rule for all districts on how to manage such funds, which would go a long way toward instilling confidence that dollars donated to schools go where they are supposed to.

The audit did not delve into any specific instances of wrongdoing, but found a distinct lack of clear and consistent controls in each district it examined, suggesting a problem not isolated to any campus. "Based on our review of a limited number of school districts and schools," the auditors wrote, "we believe that similar problems would be found at other districts and schools."

That is likely the case, if only because the function of raising money for extra-curricular programs tends to be a casual endeavor, mounted by students, parents and community boosters for a particular sport or activity. Over the course of time, fund-raising programs come and go, and there is a high turnover rate for those who lead the projects — often they are parents who become less involved when their children graduate and move on.

The auditors noted that state policies make it unclear whether such money is technically private or public, leaving those in charge unsure of exactly what fiscal controls they are obligated to follow. When dealing with a few thousand dollars raised for sports equipment, it's easy to simply regard it as a private disbursement and hand a check over to a coach.

No one is suggesting the creation of a burdensome regulatory machine to monitor the money. But clear rules that require a simple accounting of where funds come from and exactly where they go would not be onerous, and would not create an obstacle to raising the cash so many schools rely on to support important activities.

The process that led to the current examination of policy is a sterling example of how government should work. Auditors uncovered gaps in the system and those responsible for closing them immediately went to work — in this case, education officials, who proved they are capable of receiving, as well as delivering, learned an important lesson.

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