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NWTC wins national award for transparency in financial reporting

Thursday June 18, 2015

Northeast Wisconsin Technical College has been recognized as a national leader in financial transparency. The College recently received the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting.

The Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada (GFOA) announced the award, which it described as “the highest form of recognition in the area of governmental accounting and financial reporting…its attainment represents a significant accomplishment by a government and its management.”

NWTC earned the certification with its first-ever comprehensive annual financial report, or CAFR.

“We applied to GFOA for a Certificate of Achievement Award,” said Clark Wagner, Director of Financial Operations. “They reviewed it against a 72-page set of criteria.”

The CAFR was developed by a 17-person Finance team led by Vicky Fitzgerald, accounting manager, with data support from Kim Wyckoff, Client Reporting Specialist. The project was started in February 2014 and largely finished in December.

Fitzgerald said that, although producing a CAFR is not a legal requirement, “it’s a best practice of the GFOA. We wanted to follow best practices, and we wanted to validate that our financial reporting was of the highest quality…. We recognize the need to be as transparent as possible to the public.”

The most difficult aspect of putting the report together, she said, was that “We had to create it from scratch. To get together what we really wanted took about eight months. It gives a much more complete picture of the college than past reports.” New material includes an introductory section with strategic plan, accomplishments, a map of the taxing district, district history and profile, organizational chart, and board membership and structure. It includes a financial section (not new), then a section with 10 years of statistical data. “You could look at some of these reports and see, that’s where they had a referendum, here’s where our FTEs were in 2005, that’s how our cost per FTE compares to today.”

Ordinarily, the first time an organization submits a CAFR, the GFOA reviewers return it with pages of suggestions and corrections, and it will take years for an organization to meet the criteria. In NWTC’s case, the report won immediately. Fitzgerald said the team was highly motivated to make the report as good as possible. “We took so much pride in it. It felt good.”

According to the GFOA, “The CAFR has been judged by an impartial panel to meet the high standards of the program including demonstrating a constructive “spirit of full disclosure” to clearly communicate its financial story and motivate potential users and user groups to read the CAFR.”

GFOA is a nonprofit professional association serving 17,500 government finance professionals. It has offices in Chicago, Ill., and Washington, D.C.

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