A misinterpretation of enrollment in discounted school lunch programs led to an error in the Santa Monica-Malibu school district’s bookkeeping.

The error was discovered in an audit of SMMUSD finances by Christy White Associates, an accounting firm hired by the district to examine its coffers.

The finding was considered minor with a fiscal impact of less than $10,000, according to Marcy Fimbres, who detailed the issue to the local Board of Education at its meeting Jan. 21.

Districts are shouldering more responsibility in handling state education money through the Local Control Funding Formula, which is based on part on attendance figures, student participation in free and reduced-price meal applications and levels of student involvement in English language learning programs.

Looking at data for a sampling of 21 students at Santa Monica High School, Fimbres said, accountants found an error in how one student was categorized. Analysis led the firm to believe that the same error could have affected the tracking of as many as 31 students.

The issue likely occurred because the timelines for reporting student enrollment in school lunch programs are different at the state and national levels, Fimbres said. The district submits data for the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System (CALPADS) as well as to the federal government.

The district’s chief financial officer, Jan Maez, said the district will get back to the state on how it plans to improve on reporting student data in the future.

“It was just a mistake or oversight,” she said. “I think it was learning and an interpretation of … the free and reduced meal program, what the timing is, because there are different timeframes. We need to be able to reconcile that and make sure we’re accurately reporting on our CALPADS.”

New expenditures top $1.3 million

The school board on Thursday approved nearly $1.4 million in new purchase orders and an additional $390,000 in facility expenses.

The consent calendar includes a payment of $500,000 to Pillsbury for legal counsel. The district has spent millions of dollars on consultants and legal fees since the discovery of polychlorinated biphenyls at Malibu campuses more than two years ago. Malibu activists and SMMUSD critics have said they believe replacing the contaminated materials would have been less expensive.

Also on the list of new purchase orders is $296,000 for rolling window shades, which are being installed across the district in an attempt to control classroom temperatures.

The list of new purchase orders also includes $45,000 to Fagen Friedman & Fulfrost LLP for legal fees; $42,000 for graphic calculators at Samohi; an additional $40,000 in legal fees to Orbach Huff Suarez & Henderson LLP; $26,000 for a Yosemite science program for John Adams Middle School students; $25,000 for ballroom dance instruction; $22,000 for bus repairs; $20,000 for valuation of the Doubletree hotel, which sits on district property; and $13,000 for a new Malibu High School website.

The list of facility-related costs includes more than $110,000 to Apple for technology and curriculum services and nearly $107,000 to NSI LLC for software support.

jeff@www.smdp.com