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Community college audit flags areas of concern

State House Bureau

August 28. 2017 10:07PM

CONCORD — A four-year performance audit of the state’s community college system has identified “several areas in need of improvement” that cover virtually every aspect of college operations, including administration, finance and information technology.

The 100-page report presented to a joint House-Senate legislative committee on Friday lays out 29 recommendations, including better oversight of purchasing, more equitable distribution of state aid and better compliance with the state’s Right to Know law.

Officials with the community college system worked with auditors from the Office of Legislative Budget Assistant throughout the audit, and concurred with most of the recommendations.

“We found the Community College System of New Hampshire (CCSNH) lacked comprehensive policies and procedures in key business areas such as finance, budgeting, capital planning, procurement, data management, fleet management and information technology project planning,” according to the auditors.

“Lack of policies and procedures often resulted in colleges completing the same task in different ways, potentially leading to inefficiency.”

The report also identifies instances of bartering, conflicts of interest and questionable spending, which “illustrated how insufficient controls can negatively impact the organization.”

CCSNH did not have policies for how to allocate state funding of $40 million in 2016, according to the report, and as a result, could not justify why one school received about $8,200 per student while another school received about $2,800 per student during the same time period.

The audit also found that the community college board did not meet the minimum standards established in the state’s Right to Know law for what must be included in non-public board minutes and did not appropriately use the emergency meeting provision.

Vehicle management was also an issue in an organization with a fleet of 54 passenger vehicles, sport utility vehicles and light trucks located throughout the state.

“The seven presidents and the chancellor each had vehicles assigned to them,” states the audit. “While all presidents use their vehicles for CCSNH business, some also use their vehicles for commuting and personal purposes.”

The report recommended more oversight of purchasing, citing the following instances:

• An unidentified college president bought a new 2013 Honda Pilot EX-L with leather interior at a cost of $32,500;

• An unidentified college president held an inauguration event costing approximately $34,000. The costs included food, band and audio set up, a $500 original poem commissioned for the occasion, bagpiper, commemorative medallions featuring the president’s likeness, commemorative mugs, lapel pins and video and photography.

• Numerous meals at restaurants for executive management where there was no meeting agenda.

IT project falls flat

In an effort to centralize database operations, the chancellor — at the request of the board — embarked on a $2.9 million project. “Based on conversations with members of CCSNH management and the absence of planning documents, we found the project was inadequately planned and has so far resulted in inefficient operations, ineffective reporting and additional workloads on CCSNH staff,” the audit reports.

Paul Holloway, chairman of the CCSNH Board of Trustees, said that the system will work to improve on areas identified in the audit, which focused primarily on internal business processes.

“In most cases, we have already made changes within areas identified during the audit, or are in the process of doing so, and the board will monitor ongoing work related to this report,” Holloway said.

The audit can be viewed below:

Ross Gittell, CCSNH chancellor, called the audit a “helpful tool.”

“We see areas for business process improvement, better decision-making, operations that would benefit from more comprehensive written policies, and the need for more internal communication and transparency,” he said, and noted that a task force will be created to monitor progress on audit-related compliance.

“We do appreciate the areas of concern raised by the report and will take the recommendations seriously,” Gittell said. “CCSNH is a large, complex and dynamic organization, and not perfect. At the same time, in the report we’ve tried to articulate the work going on across CCSNH to provide 21st century learning that meets 21st century education, workforce and economic needs, and have made significant advances.”

CCSNH trustee Jeremy Hitchcock, founder of Dyn, noted that the community college system’s most recent financial audit found no material weaknesses in the system’s financial operations.

The community college system consists of Great Bay Community College, Lakes Region Community College, Manchester Community College, NHTI-Concord, Nashua Community College, River Valley Community College and White Mountains Community College.

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