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RCC Improperly Charged Public High School Track Leagues a Total of $96,450 for the Use of RLTAC.

The audit questioned some of the rental fees charged to public high school track leagues, although it also suggested that a change in the law governing these rental fees may be appropriate.

Table of Contents

Overview

From the population of 22 rental payments by public high school track leagues, RCC improperly charged a total of $96,450 for 19 payments. Additionally, RCC could not provide invoices for 2 of the 22 rental payments. Charging public high school track leagues for the use of RLTAC (for track meets and other charges, such as cleanup after the events, athletic trainer fees, and/or police detail) is not compliant with RLTAC’s enabling legislation, Section 22A(d) of Chapter 15A of the Massachusetts General Laws. In addition, not retaining invoices to support fees charged for the use of RLTAC may increase the risk of RCC missing a step in its fee collecting process, which could lead to a loss of funds. Finally, not retaining invoices results in RCC not complying with the Massachusetts Statewide Records Retention Schedule Quick Guide Schedule Number 06-18, revised December 2018.

Further, during our inspection of the supporting documents for these 22 rental payments, we found that RLTAC charged the incorrect athletic trainer rate ($40 per hour rather than the correct rate of $35 per hour) for 9 payments. This resulted in a $510 overcharge during fiscal year 2018 for athletic trainer fees, which was part of the improperly charged $96,450. Charging public high school track leagues, as well as charging amounts not approved by RCC’s board of trustees, resulted in RCC not being in compliance with RLTAC’s enabling legislation (Section 22A[d] of Chapter 15A of the General Laws) and the fee schedule approved by RCC’s board of trustees for fiscal year 2018.

Authoritative Guidance

Regarding RLTAC charging public high school track leagues, Section 22A(d) of Chapter 15A of the General Laws states,

[RLTAC] shall be made available without charge for use by public high school track programs and Roxbury Community College. The center shall be made available on a user fee basis for members of the public. The center shall be made available at market rate, as determined by the board, for use for nonpublic purposes so long as the center is not being used for public purposes.

In addition, the athletic trainer fee, according to the approved fee schedule, is $35 per hour.

Regarding the missing invoices, the Massachusetts Statewide Records Retention Schedule Quick Guide Schedule Number 06-18, revised December 2018, states that payment documentation must be retained for three years after final payment, settlement, or writeoff.

Reasons for Issue

In a memo to OSA, RCC officials explained,

In the current audit there has been documentation that could not be found. These outstanding items include contracts for event staff, paper files for a few events and payment documentation. . . .

Within the audit period of [fiscal year 2018 through fiscal year 2019], several events took place that impacted record-keeping:

The event software that was used to book, invoice and record payment receipts—FastBook—was determined to not meet the full needs of the College. The migration to the new application, Tripleseat, was completed in [fiscal year] 2020. At that time, a decision was made to migrate events from that current fiscal year. The data in Fastbook relating to the audit period could not be retrieved until March 5, 2021 after multiple attempts by a technical consultant. Those invoices were sent via email on that date. . . .

Since [fiscal year 2018 through fiscal year 2019], there have been staffing changes which has impacted locating all pertinent documentation. These changes include the former Auxiliary Services Manager (responsible for invoicing clients and recording payments received).

According to the meeting minutes of the RCC board of trustees, the board approved fees to be charged for events (including track-related events) for fiscal years 2018 and 2019; the board discussed implementing admission fees for spectators during track events, but did not decide to do so during the audit period. Therefore, RCC kept the rental fees in place, which caused it to charge and collect fees from public high school track leagues. RCC officials further explained that although RLTAC's enabling legislation states that public high school track programs can use RLTAC free, RLTAC's state appropriation (according to the fiscal year 2018 and fiscal year 2019 budget summary language for the RLTAC retained revenue account) allows it to collect money for facility expenses associated with meets. They stated that they considered things like cleanup, trainers, security, and staffing to be expenses associated with meets and that they therefore believed RCC was not responsible for paying them.

We asked RCC’s staff why RCC charged the incorrect athletic trainer fee for fiscal year 2018, but because of management turnover, we did not receive an explanation.

Recommendations

  1. RCC should ensure that RLTAC stops charging public high school track leagues for the use of the facility and related fees for running events.
  2. RCC should retain documentation for all RLTAC rental charges and payments.
  3. RCC should ensure that board-approved fees are properly charged.

Auditee’s Response

The College acknowledges the enabling legislation for the RLTAC. However, this legislation is not clear, nor widely understood. In the audit team’s analysis, they acknowledge the conflict in the enabling legislation and the budget language. As the only entity in the State that this legislation covers, it has been difficult to obtain guidance and support.

The College has operated with the understanding that expenses associated with the meets could be charged back to the high school leagues. The College has never charged high schools or leagues for the use of the facilities. The charges were generally for trainers, security, and extra staff who are working with the event. These are costs that the College could require that the high schools pay directly. Yet, the College bears the ultimate responsibility and cannot trust that the appropriate amount of security (for example) would be used if we allowed the high schools to make these arrangements. . . .

In the years since the FY12 audit, the College made several attempts to resolve this conflict in the legislation. College staff first tried to gain legislative support to clarify the language and spoke to individuals, caucuses, and the Speaker of the House. No legislator was willing to sponsor a bill to clarify the conflict. Even if the College had been able to secure a bill sponsor, we would have needed a majority of legislators from all over the State to vote for this change. Consider that the RLTAC falls within the legislative districts of one State representative and one senator. Yet, the high schools all have legislators across the Commonwealth who will listen to their constituents. With this imbalance of legislative power, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to gain statewide support for a change that would shift costs to the high schools. . . .

Further, the College has attempted to secure additional funds for the RLTAC. The RLTAC appropriation was $954,480 in FY 2006 and $945,125 in FY 2007. In FY07, Governor Patrick combined the appropriations for the College and RLTAC. Since many state and federal allocations use the amount spent per student (or the budget divided by the number of students) as a determination of need, it appeared that the College was spending more for its degree-seeking students than was the case. This caused the College to lose eligibility for several federal funds and to receive less in several State allocations. The College successfully lobbied to revert to a separate allocation in FY2017; however, the amount of the allocation has consistently stood at $925,000. Within the years since the last audit, the College has secured only a small increase to the appropriation. Since the RLTAC is viewed as covering high school operations, there is no automatic mechanism to account for necessary increases and the College must work with the Department of Education as a separate process. Each year the College must cover the costs of union staff annual negotiated increases, rising costs of utilities and building maintenance, and the implementation of any process changes and improvements. The College [loses] money each year and must absorb the administrative costs of the RLTAC from funds intended to serve College students and our community. The legislation creates a situation that is not fiscally sound, taking funding from the most economically disadvantaged students to support high school athletics in the suburbs and beyond. This does not support the College’s mission and is ethically dubious.

However, understanding the possible finding and the audit team’s opinion, the president discussed the matter with the RCC Board of Trustees during their June 2021 meeting. Consequently, the trustees voted to discontinue charging high school track leagues for any costs for track meets. They acknowledged that the College would need to live within its appropriation and that this action might decrease the number of events or cause political action from the high schools.

The hourly rate of $40 instead of $35 for athletic trainer services was a mistake that should have been corrected by staff. The hourly rate for the athletic trainer was increased to $40 per hour, effective FY20, during the February 2019 Board of Trustees meeting. The $40 increase was added to Fastbook after the meeting, as a separate line item, so business office staff could begin charging the new fee on July 1, 2019. The staff member responsible for completing the spring 2019 track invoices inadvertently selected the new fee from the drop-down list, and the error was not identified by Business Office staff.

Moving forward, fiscal year increases approved by the Board of Trustees will not be entered into Tripleseat (RCC’s new event scheduling software) until the start of the corresponding fiscal year.

All Board-approved fees will continue to be documented and shared with all staff who book events throughout the College, including the RLTAC.

In a follow-up response, RCC added,

As RCC is unable to host private external events during the high school track season, there is no opportunity for RCC to generate revenue for the retained revenue account from late November through early March. The current appropriation does not provide sufficient funding for all legislated purposes of RLTAC, creating a scenario where RCC is forced to use College funds to cover the operational needs of RLTAC. . . .

Additionally . . . the high school leagues using RLTAC for meets are comprised of both public and private high schools. Based on the 2018–2019 league listing, 26 private schools are benefiting from using RLTAC for meets, at the same rate as public schools. 

Auditor’s Reply

RCC asserts that our analysis acknowledges a conflict between the language in Section 22A(d) of Chapter 15A of the General Laws and RCC’s annual budget language. However, this is not accurate. As noted above, Section 22A(d) of Chapter 15A of the General Laws states that RCC is not allowed to charge public high school track programs for the use of RLTAC. This is the criterion we used to perform our testing in this area in both this and our prior audit of RLTAC.

OSA acknowledges the fiscal and operational challenges RCC may face in operating RLTAC. Specifically, a potential inequity exists under Section 22A(d) of Chapter 15A of the General Laws when public high school track programs benefit from using RLTAC without charge while deriving revenue, such as admission fees, that RLTAC cannot use to defray expenses associated with that free use. OSA recommends that RCC work with the Legislature to address this potential imbalance under the law.

Moreover, in its response, RCC asserts that RLTAC cannot generate revenue from November through March because it cannot host any private events during track season. Based on this, and on the rental limitations posed by the exclusive use of RLTAC by high school track leagues, OSA recommends that RCC work with the Legislature to assess whether appropriations for RLTAC are sufficient to meet all the operating costs associated with the center’s extensive use.

RLTAC’s response also indicates that 26 private high schools participated in league meets during the audit period and may have incurred the same benefits as public high schools. Often, track rentals are secured by high school track leagues, which can include both public and private high schools. Use of RLTAC by private high schools without charge was almost certainly not the intent of the RLTAC enabling legislation and is contrary to Section 2 of Article XVIII of the state constitution. RLTAC should make certain that only public high schools use the facility without charge and that private schools pay all appropriate rental fees.

Based on its response, RCC is taking measures to address our other recommendations.

Date published: October 28, 2021
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