5 Common Mistakes to Avoid During Your Audit

If you're like most people, you dread an audit, and for good reason. Failing an audit by the New York State Education Department (NYSED)  can cost your school thousands in fines and hours of headaches tracking down missing paperwork. We're here to help you get ahead of your audit.

Our guest blogger and expert on audits is Emily Chatelain, the Founder of the School Food and Wellness Group. Emily helps schools with everything from becoming a School Food Authority, to managing paperwork and preparing for audits. Here, Emily shares the top five mistakes she has observed during charter school  audits in the NSLP program, and what schools can do to better prepare themselves. 

Error #1:  Inaccurate or Missing Records 

As a School Food Authority, you are required to maintain accurate point-of-service meal records that are used to support your monthly claim for reimbursement. At the end of each month, you must consolidate all data to calculate the number of free, reduced and paid meals that your served.

audit magnifying glass.jpgAudit Finding Example

Your auditor is reviewing the last submitted claim. You're asked to show data to back up one the weeks, but you can't  find it. The auditor has to dis-allow all meals served that week, resulting in a fine for your school.

The Fix

Establish and train all staff involved in meal service on correct meal counting procedures prior to the start of the school year. Each month, complete an internal audit of the point-of-sale totals against the records on hand. Be sure to have the records to support the claim numbers entered. Create an electronic back up copy of all documents so it's easy to locate in case of an audit.

Error #2: You're Missing Meal Applications

Missing or incorrectly determined meal applications are a common issue during audits. SFAs are required to maintain a roster of all approved free and reduced students and to have the paperwork to support the data. Each student must have his or her status correctly determined and the applications must have all required information to be considered complete. What's considered complete?  A case number and a signature counts as a complete application. Alternately, if there's no case number, you'll need a listed income and a list of all household members and their income with frequency, Only the person filling out the form needs to sign it and include the the last 4 digits of his or her SSN.

Audit Finding Example

While on site, the auditor reviews all meal applications submitted by families and finds 10 were incorrectly calculated as “free” and 10 were missing parent signatures. All meals claimed for those 20 students from day one are now changed to “paid” meal reimbursement. The SFA is financially responsible for covering the difference. 

The Fix

Have a second set of eyes complete a review of all meal applications to catch any errors you may have missed. Review the eligibility guidelines released each year in July and ensure you are using updated income eligibility guidelines. 

Error # 3: Missing or Incomplete Meals Served

lunch-tray-outline-Sep12_can-school-lunch-be-saved.jpgYour auditor will perform an on-site meal observation to ensure you are counting only complete meals for reimbursement. Schools are often unaware if they are “Offer vs Serve” (OVS) or have chosen to be strictly “Serve”. OVS schools must allow students to choose three of the five offered meal components, one of which must be a fruit or vegetable. “Serve” schools must ensure that each meal contains all five of the required components (including milk).

Audit Finding Example

During the audit, the auditor noticed 12 students did not have the correct amount of components on their tray, and dis-allows those 12 meals to be claimed. The auditor also noticed that the 1% milk choice ran out before the end of service, resulting in only one choice of milk. Both are written up as findings.

The Fix

Establish and train your staff on meal components and serving requirements. SFAs should review the USDA and state trainings and reach out to their state agency for clarifying questions if necessary. Managers should observe meal service periodically to verify that the correct procedures are being followed.

Error #4: Incorrect and Outdated Documents

audit photo.jpgEach year, there are several required documents that must be shared with parents and the public. Audits will often show that SFAs are using improper language or outdated versions of state templates. Prior to the school start, the parent letters and media release must be sent out. These are often over-looked or contain language that is obsolete. SFAs must also send eligibility determination letters as well as verification letters to households that have the required language per the State Agency. Audit findings will result if letters are missing language or were never distributed.

Audit Finding Example

The auditor reviews all verification paperwork and finds that the required USDA and NYSED language is not included, notifying parents of their right to appeal and the date of the status change on their letters. This results in a finding, and all letters must be corrected.

The Fix

Most state agencies have all updated templates and documents posted on their websites. Do a full review of all documentation on file each August to ensure you are using the correct forms. The most important form is the meal application which is released each year by the State Agency in July.

Error #5: You Missed the Deadline!

DeadlineCalendar.pngThe National School Lunch Program has several deadlines and reports that require submittal throughout the school year. All meal claims are due within 60 days of the claim month. The state allows one late claim request per two year period. Verification must be complete by November 15, and all data reported by the state deadline, which is typically in December or January. There are also mandatory staff training sessions, program monitoring, end of year financial reporting requirements, and other various reports that are subject to change year to year. Missing deadlines result in claim holds by the state agency.

Audit Finding Example

The auditor cannot find any of the required breakfast, lunch or snack program monitoring forms. 

The Fix

Create a list of deadlines for the year and map them out on a staff calendar. Check with the state agency to account for all updated requirements for the upcoming school year. Set reminders and have an additional staff member on hand to verify that all reports were submitted on time and in compliance with agency standards.

Remember SFA’s get audited once every three years. If any seriously deficient findings from your first review are found to be a recurring issue during your second audit, the state has the authority to take schools off of the National School Lunch Program for seven years. We hope these tips will help you avoid this!

For more information on audits at your program, or for help becoming an SFA, visit the School Food and Wellness Group resource page. 

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