Are Your School District's Travel Guidelines and Procedures Up to Speed?

With travel to conferences and events picking up again, it is a good time to review your district’s travel guidelines and procedures. Making sure you have the right controls in place to prevent the misuse of travel funds is also a good way to prepare for your district’s annual audit. Auditors may look at log books to determine whether credit cards have been checked out, check to see that receipts were provided and supervisors approved all travel. Those are just a few areas that might be covered in an audit. As you review your travel guidelines and procedures, make sure you have these systems in place:

Make sure the right approvals are in place for an approved event. Will the proposed travel be to an approved event? Has the employee’s supervisor or department head reviewed and approved the request? Is the travel in line with district policies? For example, if your district’s policy is to select the lowest overall cost, flying to a distant conference may be the least expensive and preferable choice, even if most district travel is by car.

Review your district’s system for using credit cards. For cards that must be checked out, make sure there is a check in/out process with a log signed. For all credit and travel cards, each employee must provide receipts for each expense (including ride share services, restaurants, hotel, airfare and conference fees). Having a process in place will help you ensure that employees are held accountable when the process isn’t followed. If your district assigns cards to employees, require all employees with P-cards or credit cards to sign an agreement acknowledging that they have read the district’s rules and processes.

Get receipts for all petty cash or advance payments. Though less common, petty cash or advance payment might still be used for employee travel. When an employee checks out petty cash, ensure the proper receipts are obtained to document the use of cash and that the employee returns all unused cash as soon as the event is over. A receipt should be issued to this employee for unused petty cash/advance funds when the unused cash is returned.

Get timely travel receipts for reimbursement. Make sure the employee’s supervisor approves the Expense Reimbursement prior to approval by the business office and that receipts for each transaction are attached. The best practice is for the employee to submit receipts no more than 60 days after the end of the month. Timeliness of the receipt submission is just as important as controls over the process. If receipts are not submitted timely and the expenses are not reviewed until six months after the event, there is not much of a control to show the expense should have been paid.  

For districts with a per diem policy. If your district pays a per diem rather than reimbursing for actual expenses, make sure the district has a per diem policy and that the per diem rates from the IRS are posted for employees to easily see. In addition, make sure the employee’s supervisor has approved the number of days for the event. With the per diem method, the employee must provide the business purpose and substantiate the travel.

Use the right accounting code. TEA’s Financial Accounting System Resource Guide provides helpful insight if you want to know which accounting code to use for certain expenses. Here are some examples:

  • Object Code 6411 – Employees: transportation, meals, room, registration fees associated with virtual and in-person trainings, conferences, seminars, and in-service trainings; and other expenses associated with professional development and traveling on official school business.
  • Object Code 6412 – Students: transportation (rental of vans, buses, and other vehicles); meals; participation fees; room; registration and other expenses associated with students’ travel.
  • Object Code 6495 – Membership dues

With these policies and procedures in place, your district’s business office will be prepared for an increase in travel this year. You might find that employees who may not have traveled far from home during the past year need reminders about submitting receipts in a timely fashion. Clear communication and strong systems will be your best tools for getting everyone on their feet and ready to travel again.

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Authored by Claire Wootton, CPA.

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