Sneak Preview: Improved Monitoring Needed for Colo. Meal Program

March 26, 2014 | By Jerry Ashworth | Post a Comment

xsass_bookshot(The following was excerpted from an article in the Single Audit Information Service.) The Colorado Department of Education, Office of School Nutrition is developing standard operating procedures — and plans to train office staff how to implement them — designed to enable it to better monitor the state’s School Meal Program. The new procedures stem from a recent Colorado Office of State Auditor audit that found numerous concerns with the OSN’s oversight of the program.

The School Meal Program provides nutritionally balanced meals to children in pre-kindergarten through the 12th grade. There were 184 educational organizations that participated in the program in Colorado during the 2012-2013 school year. OSN is responsible for monitoring school districts’ compliance with federal and state requirements related to the program.

The state auditor found that OSN did not have an effective monitoring process in place to ensure school districts comply with program requirements and that violations are corrected in a timely manner. OSN compliance reviews failed to identify many errors that could result in a program violation. For example, OSN accepted and processed two applications as eligible for the program despite being incomplete. In other cases, OSN approved applications even though the school district had incorrectly calculated the applicant’s income during the verification process.

OSN did identify program violations at 76 school districts during the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 school years. However, the state auditor concluded that OSN only conducted three follow-up reviews and did not apply fiscal sanctions consistently across school districts despite the number of violations.

“Unidentified errors in student meal application and verification processes could result in a loss of school meal benefits to students or the awarding of benefits to students who do not qualify,” the state auditor said. “School districts lacking a clear understanding of how fiscal penalties should be assessed, and the OSN assessing only the minimally required penalties could decrease the districts’ motivation to correct deficiencies.”

The state auditor recommended that OSN strengthen its monitoring processes by implementing procedures to enhance compliance reviews, train staff on these policies and procedures, and work with the state Department of Education to assess resources to ensure OSN can properly monitor the program.

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