Release all Manatee County school district audit documents

January 23, 2013 

The independent forensic auditing team hired by the Manatee County school board to investigate the district's financial disaster should release the more than 3,000 pages of notes and summaries that led to last week's report. The public has a right to know all the details that led to Navigant's conclusion that one person was primarily responsible for the $3.4 million deficit discovered last September.

The district and the company are still working out the distribution of the additional documents. This should be the highest priority with quick posting on the district's website so the public can have easy access.

People want answers now to the many questions that remain in the wake of Navigant's 200-page audit report, which castigated the financial mismanagement and cited incomptence as the reason. The interview notes that investigators compiled from talks with former Superintendent Tim McGonegal and ex-Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Jim Drake should shed additional light on the budget debacle.

The audit places almost all the blame on Drake and his decision to scrap a functioning computer software system that tracked salaries and benefits with a defective one. That then forced him to implement a manual method, which the current chief financial officer described as "insane." Upon joining the district last May and witnessing the budget process, Michael Boyer said he was shocked.

"Because I know what it's like to manually work with a couple hundred employees. To magnify that to 5,200 is insane," he told Herald education reporter Katy Bergen in Sunday's detailed analysis of the fiasco.

When did McGonegal discover Drake's poor decision-making? He demanded Drake's retirement because of too many mistakes, which occurred last February. Why didn't McGonegal investigate the accounting procedures when he knew errors had been made? He only discovered them months later, in July.

Drake, who was hired in 2005 to replace McGonegal as the district's executive finance director, told auditors that the budget "was not his strong point." Drake was then promoted to assistance superintendent in 2009 when McGonegal assumed the top office. How can two men with strong financial backgrounds fail to prevent a budget deficit?

By the 2011-2012 school year, Drake and only two other staff members developed the budget, according to the audit -- a herculean task for three people. Why only three? Didn't anyone think about sounding the alarm? The audit only states the budget process was short-staffed. Do the additional documents explain how this could occur? Did anyone question this set-up?

Currently, a dozen district employees are working to fix position control and payroll encumbrances. Position control software will be installed for the 2013-2014 budget, a system that will block salary calculation errors and over spending. This stands in stark contrast with last year's monumental failures.

The thousands of pages of documents should provide greater clarity into this lack of leadership and accountability. Post the information today.

Bradenton Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service