Auditors give San Benito ‘clean opinion’ as district builds cash reserve

The San Benito Consolidated Independent School District John F. Barron Administration building is pictured Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023, in San Benito. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)
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SAN BENITO — Overcoming a drop in federal coronavirus pandemic recovery money, officials scored high marks on the school district’s annual financial audit, which cited a massive cash reserve.

As officials closed the 2022-2023 school year June 30, the federal cut in millions of dollars worth of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds, or ESSER funds, helped lead the district’s revenue stream to drop to $140.6 million, down from $148.3 million the previous year, the audit shows.

Still, officials stockpiled a cash cache big enough to run the district’s daily operations for five-and-a-half months, far exceeding the standard 90-day minimum.

As part of a 200-page report, the certified public accounting firm of Carr, Riggs and Ingram issued the school district a “clean opinion” following the audit.

“For the past several years, it’s been a clean audit across the board,” board President Orlando Lopez said Wednesday in an interview. “It’s always good to know there are no deficiencies. It’s a testament to our finance department in keeping things in order. Our finance department does a real good job.”

The auditors reviewed the period running from June 30, 2022 to June 30, 2023, when the district’s general fund revenues stood at $109.15 million, with expenditures at $109.18 million, down from $114.3 million in revenues, with $103.8 million in expenditures, the previous year, the audit shows.

“The opinion we have issued over your financial statements is an unmodified opinion, so you might consider that to be a clean opinion — something that you as a board would be anticipating, be wanting to receive, and something that the taxpayers in the community would be anticipating and wanting the district to receive,” auditor Mathew Montemayor told board members during a Nov. 30 meeting.

“We did not identify any type of deficiencies in internal control that we consider to be a material weaknesses nor did we identify or report any type of significant deficiencies in the audit,” he said.

During the year, the drop in federal ESSER funding helped change the district’s net position, Montemayor said.

During the 2022-2023 school year, the district’s total revenues dropped to $140.6 million, down from $148.3 million the previous year, the audit shows.

“A lot of that decrease was in operating grants and contributions,” Montemayor said, noting the district used most of its ESSER funding the previous year.

The San Benito Consolidated Independent School District John F. Barron Administration building is pictured Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023, in San Benito. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

Meanwhile, the district’s total assets stood at $179 million at the close of the 2022-2023 fiscal year, down from $180 million, the audit shows.

In their review, the auditors cited the district’s funding of ongoing construction projects, Montemayor said.

“Some of the biggest factors were you continued to use some of your capital projects funds to continue on some of your projects that were in construction-in-progress during the year,” he told board members.

During the 2022-2023 school year, teacher retirement payments helped push the district’s total liabilities to $169 million, up from $163.5 million the previous year, the audit shows.

While the district’s net pension liabilities, in part stemming from the state’s Teacher Retirement System, climbed to $37.19 million, up from $15.9 million the previous year, other post-employment benefits dropped to $20.5 million, down from $34.4 million.

“The district did not issue any new debt,” Montemayor said. “You continued to pay down your existing debt and make those payments timely during the year.”

During the school year, the district’s long-term debt stemming from total general obligation bonds continued falling, dropping from a beginning balance of $87.5 million to an ending balance of $83 million, the audit shows.

The district has been scoring high marks on its audits.

During the 2022-2023 school year, the Texas Education Agency gave the district an ‘A’ rating based on its audit of the 2021-2022 school year, Fred Perez, the district’s acting superintendent, said.