How to Develop an Ethical Culture in Your School District

CPAs & Advisors

Brian Dixon
Brian Dixon CPA Managing Principal CPAs & Advisors

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In today’s world of immediate communication, we continually hear about instances of employee fraud at school districts. How can you keep your school district’s name out of the newspaper and off the internet?

It all starts with developing an ethical culture and establishing strong internal controls to deter employees from committing fraud.

Developing a strong, ethical culture begins with setting a strong tone at the top. Management should set the proper tone through their actions, which will encourage employees to adhere to the value system that the district has defined.

The school district needs to communicate its ethical values through a written code of conduct that emphasizes the importance of integrity and ethical behavior. Administrators should disseminate the written code of conduct to all employees and could potentially go as far as to ask each employee to sign it annually.

Also, having a positive workplace environment is extremely important in establishing and maintaining an ethical workplace culture. The school district should take definitive steps to create a work environment where employees have a clear understanding of what is right and wrong, and feel free to discuss and ask questions about ethical issues and to report any violations.

Consider implementing an anonymous and confidential fraud hotline, in conjunction with a whistleblower policy at the district. A confidential service for reporting suspected fraud through email, telephone, or a website provides employees the peace of mind that they can report suspicious activity without pressure or threat.

Hiring is another key factor in developing a strong, ethical company culture. It is important for school districts to establish and maintain policies for hiring and promoting individuals with high levels of integrity, especially in positions of trust or areas where fraudulent activity is commonly found. These hiring policies might include drug screenings, integrity testing, pre-hire investigations and bonding.

New employees should be trained and informed about the school district’s values and code of conduct at the time they are hired. Once your employees are on board, the training needs to continue periodically to ingrain those ethical behaviors.

Finally, employees who commit fraud or perform unethical activities need to be swiftly terminated and prosecuted. Termination and prosecution emphasize the tone at the top and can be a powerful deterrent for wrongdoing.

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