Manatee school district releases forensic audit documents

Herald Staff WritersFebruary 1, 2013 

MANATEE — The Manatee County School District has released more than 16,000 pages of supporting documents related to the forensic investigation of a $3.4 million budget deficit.

The documents were posted on the district’s website shortly after 5 p.m.

The approximately 900 files, totaling more than 16,000 pages, were given to the district about 2 p.m. Friday by auditors from Navigant and lawyers from Trenam Kemper. The district and its information technology department spent much of the afternoon trying to find the best way to make the documents available, deciding to create two large zip files that can be downloaded from the district's website.

“This is the raw data,” Karen Carpenter, school board chairwoman, said Friday. “As soon as they can, it needs to be further categorized to publish and index the documents. Right now, they’ve got them and wanted to put them up to get access today. They’ll work early next week on a more easily navigable system.”

Carpenter said she knew the documents were nearing release when school board attorney John Bowen met with Navigant representatives this week to ensure student and employee privacy would not be breached. Trenam Kemper assured the district that confidential information would be redacted.

Included in the report are handwritten notes from interviews with former superintendent Tim McGonegal and former assistant superintendent Jim Drake, financial reports and other documentation that was used as research in the audit.

Carpenter said she will first sort through the interviews.

“I want to know if the right questions were asked and what the answers were to those questions,” she said. “When did management – the superintendent and CFO – start to discover things were not right? Why didn’t they bring that up to the board? Who else in the finance department had a duty to let us know what was going on?”

Carpenter said the deficit is “one point in time.” She wants to know what mistakes and decisions led to the lack of money and communication.

“It’s a question of people and processes,” Carpenter said, as the board tries to move forward. “We want to make sure we have tight controls, we know what’s going on, we have the right people who will tell us what’s going on and we have the right systems in place.”

School Board member Dave “Watchdog” Miner said he expects few comments to be made about the documents until they are more organized and reviewed.

Calls made to school district chief internal auditor Ed Daughtery, audit committee member Harry Kinnan and St. Petersburg law firm Trenam Kemper, which was hired to oversee the investigation of the document, have not been returned. Calls made to Navigant and school board attorney John Bowen were also not returned.

Carpenter said she intends for the board to host a public question-and-answer session to discuss the documents after interviews for the new superintendent are completed later this month. The board is working to schedule the workshop at a venue larger than its usual meeting room.

The district embarked on a forensic investigation after McGonegal announced in September that $8 million in overspending led to the deficit. External auditors have since stated overspending was closer to $11 million.

An executive summary released last month showed that auditors said the deficit was the result of numerous blunders and oversights in the district’s budget and finance operations. It named Drake as primarily responsible for the errors.

“We’re making progress,” Carpenter said. “We know there have been mistakes made and we’re on our way to fixing them.”

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