The Prince George's County school system yesterday delivered to Maryland education officials an audit of its fiscal 2004 books that holds the key to unlocking $40 million in withheld state aid.

But the findings of the much anticipated, months-overdue audit remained secret as school officials delayed the audit's release for at least a day.

Originally, the audit was supposed to be done by Sept. 30, 2004, and sent to the state in December as part of a required annual oversight report, school system officials have said.

System spokesman John White said school board members -- some of whom were out of town yesterday -- were being given a chance to review the document before it goes public.

"I'm just trying to make sure everybody knows what they're talking about," White said.

Three school board members said they had not yet seen the audit, even though it was received at the Maryland State Department of Education in Baltimore.

Board Chairman Beatrice P. Tignor (Upper Marlboro) said yesterday afternoon that she did not have a copy. Board member Dean Sirjue (Bowie) said the audit was thought to contain a positive assessment of the school system's overall finances while recommending the strengthening of some controls. Board Vice Chairman Howard W. Stone Jr. (Mitchellville) said he was ecstatic that it was finished.

"I'm delighted," Stone said. He said the school system would now be able to lay claim to $40 million withheld because of missed deadlines -- an assessment that remains to be verified by the state. "We can put that money to good use," he said.

The annual audit, typically a formality for most school systems, developed this year into a mini-drama in Prince George's. The school board fired an auditor, KPMG LLP, in February amid a dispute over the pace of its work.

The replacement, BDO Seidman LLP, began working in early March while another financial team was scrutinizing the management activities of then-schools chief Andre J. Hornsby. He resigned in late May before the release of an unflattering report from Huron Consulting Group Inc. on ethical controversies connected to Hornsby and school system purchases.

The release of Huron's report paved the way for BDO Seidman to finish its work, school board members said. Now, the auditor has apparently done so, more than two weeks after fiscal 2006 began on July 1.

State Education Department spokesman Bill Reinhard, who declined to allow a reporter to inspect the report yesterday, provided one detail: The cover letter is 41 pages long.

The findings of the audit, due last year, were not released, but the school board's Howard W. Stone Jr. said he was "delighted" that it was finished.