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The Juniper School awaits audit results for charter reauthorization

Delays in financial records filing create longer process for new agreement
The Juniper School charter reauthorization will likely be delayed because of issues filing financial records, which has impeded the district’s ability to conduct its yearly audit. (Durango Herald file)

The Juniper School may face delays in its charter school reauthorization while Durango School District 9-R awaits a financial audit after not receiving necessary information from Juniper.

A final decision on the school’s reauthorization was scheduled for Jan. 24 but the board is likely to delay the decision based on when the district’s audit may be completed.

9-R staff recommended reauthorization of the charter school Tuesday if the audit comes back satisfactory.

Each year the state requires the school district to complete an audit of district finances that includes its schools. The audit also includes charter schools that are authorized by the district. However, The Juniper School had staff turnover in its financial department in September as well as using a new finance software and it took longer to submit financial records to the district for the yearly audit.

Normally, the audit must be filed by Dec. 31 but the school district had to request an extension because it did not have Juniper’s financial information. The district now has until March 1 to complete the audit or else the state can withhold funding.

Board members discussed pushing back Juniper’s reauthorization decision until they were able to evaluate the school financially through the audit. Board Treasurer Rick Petersen suggested moving the decision to March.

“As treasurer I'm really concerned about the budgetary aspects, and I fully believe in Head of School (Philip) Werline’s efforts and what The Juniper School is trying to do, but the reality is, we still don't know the outcome of the audit,” Petersen said during Tuesday’s meeting.

Board President Kristin Smith said it is likely the board will have to extend the timeline for Juniper’s reauthorization because of a statewide auditor shortage and when the audit can take place is yet to be determined.

Werline said he spoke with the auditor and that it could take place by the Jan. 24 meeting or a few days after. He inquired about the possibility of an additional board meeting once the audit was complete which led to a discussion over whether the board could be flexible with its timeline or the possibility of an emergency meeting.

Petersen was concerned about having time to process the audit information if the board were to call an emergency meeting immediately after the audit was finished.

But Werline was worried about the perception Juniper’s staff and students would have in response to the possibility of delaying Juniper’s charter reauthorization to March.

“The downside is teachers need to see if they have jobs next year and students need to know if the school is going to be open,” Werline said.

In a later interview, he said he didn’t disagree with the board’s request to postpone the decision and understood why the school board must wait for the audit.

During a Dec. 13 board meeting, Werline said the school will work better with the district to avoid communication and financial reporting issues in the future.

To resolve the issues Juniper has made adjustments, including hiring a new business manager and using the 9-R accounting system, Infinite Visions. Also, the business manager now directly reports to the head of school. Previously, the business manager’s role was held by the head of school and would report to the Juniper board of directors. The adjustments also include the school’s business manager, head of school and 9-R’s business manager meeting quarterly to provide clarity on upcoming deadlines.

The Juniper School was under a three-year agreement with Durango School District 9-R that started in 2019.

Smith said concerns at the time had to do with the school’s facilities, low test scores and board development.

But since 2019, those concerns have been addressed by The Juniper School by adding its new school building in 2020 and increasing English language arts and math scores, as well as putting together an extensive board development plan.

The Juniper School was ranked in the top 1% of all Colorado schools in moving students into proficiency on last year's Colorado Measures of Academic Success in math and literacy.

Smith said board members don’t anticipate they will find anything wrong with the school’s financial records, but they haven’t been able to look at the school’s finances because of their use of different software.

tbrown@durangoherald.com

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