An independent audit for the Milton-Freewater Unified School District has been deemed “clean,” aside from one trouble spot.

In presenting the audit findings at the district’s board meeting Monday, Denyce Kelly of the Intermountain Educational Service District said Milton-Freewater had over-counted free student meals by about $8,000.

Intermountain ESD provides a number of services for Eastern Oregon school districts, including financial and business services.

The audit report, dated Dec. 27, said it appeared lunch counts were reported in both breakfast and lunch sections of the reimbursement claims. That led to 5,405 excess meals being claimed by the district in the 2017-2018 school year.

All students in Milton-Freewater’s public schools are offered free breakfast and lunch, and meal costs are offset by federal funding and by the district. Officials have the responsibility to submit correct meal counts to the Oregon state Department of Education, which facilitates federal dollars. Without such accountability measures, including reconciling and reviewing meal tracking software, districts risk being out of compliance and can possibly be penalized by the state, according to the audit’s authors.

In Milton-Freewater’s case, it appears the problem is frequent turnover in on-site managers for Sodexo, the company that provides meal management for the district.

It’s tough to keep people in the manager’s spot due to district size and possibly the pay associated with the position, noted Aaron Duff, operations and business manager for the school district.

In the 2017-2018 school year, that turnover made it difficult to get meal data from managers in a timely manner, which led to a rush to process claims to meet deadlines, the report found.

Kelly told Milton-Freewater board members she and Duff are now meeting with Sodexo staff monthly and will be looking at meal claims “very strictly” going forward. The most likely scenario is the district will have to pay back the overpayments, she said later.

Since the audit was released, his office has established more safeguards against accounting errors, Duff said after the board meeting.

“We feed over 1,000 kids twice a day,” he noted, adding that making sure children get fed is a good thing, despite increased accounting responsibilities.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322.

Sheila Hagar has written for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin since 1998. Sheila covers education in the Walla Walla Valley. She also writes a column, Home Place, usually highlighting family life and slices of local life.