Bucks County Community College has brought in a seasoned executive with a CPA and an MBA to serve as interim chief financial officer in the wake of a “material weakness” uncovered by Baker Tilly, an advisory firm that performed an independent audit of the college’s financial management late last year.
Niels Christensen started with BCCC March 13 on a six-month contract.
“We need someone who is a heavyweight who can come in, know the situation and get things done,” said Tom Jennings, who chairs the community college’s board of trustees.
The “material weakness” finding centered on what Baker Tilly executives called a “fairly significant” number of adjustments needed to correct misstatements, and the relatively large dollar amounts involved in those adjustments. The audit triggered the need for the community college to file a corrective action plan with the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
In the wake of the audit, the college hired Lisa Ritter, partner at Harrisburg-based Maher Duessel CPA’s, to perform a follow-up assessment of the community college’s accounting and finance operations. A draft of her report, dated Feb. 21, concluded that “basic functions such as monthly reconciliations and financial statements are not being prepared” and cited “lack of communication and accountability” as playing a role in the problems.
Central to the draft report’s recommendations was the need to “determine staff capabilities and reassign staff as necessary to complete monthly reconciliations and account analysis” and “communicate roles and responsibilities for the audit process.”
In a meeting with the Herald this week, Jennings and college President Felicia Ganther stressed that, while the audit finding came as a surprise to the trustees, the board and Ganther have been aggressively working to implement recommendations.
“We’re in the business of fixing it,” Jennings said. “And we’re making good headway. The board is unified and Felicia is doing her part to implement corrective actions in response to the audit. This is a good story to be telling…that we’re hell-bent on fixing it.”
Heavy turnover in the community college’s accounting and finance department has exacerbated issues. Frank G. Moore was serving as interim VP of Administrative Affairs and CFO at the time that Baker Tilly was performing its audit and he’d been elevated to that position from the interim controller job, the post he’d initially been hired to hold.
“We had to put interims in place in the CFO and controller job to give us time to get through the budget process,” said Ganther, who is also a member of the Bucks County Herald Foundation’s board of directors.
Neither she nor Jennings expected Moore to ultimately transition into the CFO job on a permanent basis. Moore has a hand in facilities, campus safety, operations, grounds and contract negotiations. He will continue to focus his energy there with Christensen on board, Ganther and Jennings said.
At a meeting with the auditors in late December, trustees said they wished Baker Tilly had reached out earlier in the process than December to inform the board that the audit was heading for a “material weakness” and provide some feedback and suggestions for actions the college could take to keep that from happening.
Baker Tilly’s John Compton responded that, “The books have to be closed before the audit process starts. Frank needs some help. I don’t think that’s news to anyone here. Hopefully that person is identified and in place and the books can get closed and we can get in and if that’s the case we should be done by November (next time).”
Ganther and Jennings stressed that they are working hard to facilitate good communication with faculty, staff and stakeholders and that’ll continue as the leadership works to make sure the college gets a clean audit next year.
“One thing the interim CFO is looking at is our positions to make sure we have the right people in the right positions,” Ganther said. “The CFO will also be…assessing individuals, payroll, budgets and staff training.”
The board of trustees is scheduled to meet Thursday at noon to discuss both the 2024 budget and an action plan related to the evaluation performed by Lisa Ritter and Maher Duessel.