An independent auditor has flagged nearly two dozen "material weaknesses" in the Prince George's County school system's financial controls, citing wage overpayments, unchecked time sheets, bidding and contract irregularities and more than $900,000 worth of missing school equipment.

Those revelations emerged from a long-overdue fiscal 2004 audit filed this week with the Maryland State Department of Education and obtained yesterday by The Washington Post.

Despite the numerous warnings about lapses in internal controls, county school officials cheered a central finding of the audit: Their books for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2004, were at last certified by the accounting firm BDO Seidman LLP. The auditors' opinion found that the Prince George's system "fairly, in all material respects," showed $1.36 billion in revenue and $1.27 billion in spending.

That opinion set the stage for the state to release $40 million in aid withheld from Prince George's schools since last fall because of missed auditing deadlines. "It's imminent," said a senior state education official who spoke on condition of anonymity because state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick had not yet announced a decision.

The audit originally was due Sept. 30, 2004. In November, the state started freezing payments to Prince George's, the only school system of 24 statewide to have funds frozen in the past year under a state law requiring timely audits. Failing to get the money -- a real threat absent an audit -- might have forced significant cuts in the coming school year.

Beatrice P. Tignor (Upper Marlboro), chairman of the county Board of Education, called the auditors' opinion "a blessing." Of the 23 material weaknesses identified in the audit, Tignor said: "Those are problematic. But they are reparable."

Material weaknesses are conditions that expose an agency to heightened risk of error or fraud. There was no indication that auditors found fraud. But portions of the documents, especially a 41-page memorandum on faulty financial controls, painted an unflattering picture of operations in the system.