Manatee School Board to abolish Audit Committee

eearl@bradenton.comJune 11, 2013 

MANATEE -- Following recommendations made by the state transition team, the Manatee School Board abolished its volunteer Audit Committee, and district internal audit staff in a 4-1 vote Monday.

School board member Barbara Harvey made the motion.

Bill Vogel, former superintendent of Seminole County and the citizen advisory group member chosen by Superintendent Rick Mills to lead the transition team, said the recommendation would give the school board complete authority over the audit process. Transition team co-leader Don Griesheimer said the change will make financial issues more evident.

Monday night was the first time the board discussed taking action on this recommendation.

The transition team took questions on its recommendations Monday morning, and then Vogel and transition team member Conley Weiss further discussed the internal Audit Committee recommendation.

Board members will no longer serve on the Audit Committee as a way to make it independent from the board.

"I like that word, independent," said school board Chairwoman Karen Carpenter.

Weiss said the auditors on the committee should have specific experience in kindergarten through 12th grade and references attesting to the quality of their work.

Committee members will visit with the school board, the superintendent and the community to calculate risk analysis and put a cost to each concern brought back.

Weiss said this committee will meet for a half-day quarterly at a minimum.

"The committee will serve as an oversight function, but the final authority for acceptance of the audit rests with the school board and the superintendent," Weiss said.

School board Vice Chairwoman Julie Aranibar said this will be a big change for the district.

"There is a big leap between oversight and selecting a new committee and going into (a request for proposal) process," Aranibar said.

Weiss said the committee will be a group of professionals with audit and finance backgrounds.

"They can watch the budget process and put in their input," Weiss said.

Weiss and Vogel told the school board to advertise in the newspaper and narrow down applicants, as was done in St. Johns County, which the transition team used as a comparison for Manatee.

In St. Johns County, Weiss said the board narrowed applicants down to a committee of five comprised of a banker and certified personal accountants.

Vogel recommended the board abolish its current internal audit committee model, issue a request for proposal for internal audit services, define the role of the committee and move forward with the process.

School board member Dave "Watchdog" Miner agreed there should be a change. However, each board member still has their own concern as to how they move forward with the recommendation, he said.

"We have to simplify it down," Miner said. "It is nice to have an audit committee, but it is to be clear they come back to us and we tell them what to do. It is nice to have as much input as possible, but it gets cloudy."

Gause said he is concerned about the reconstruction and losing current members of the committee.

"I'm cautious by nature. The audit committee ought to have CPA-type individuals on it," Gause said. "We will have no internal audit department, the current audit committee will leave, then we will reconstitute an audit committee and hire outside audit services for fees. We are allowing feelings to impact function. This worked in St. Johns, but I don't want to leave the district without internal audit functions."

Aranibar said the district needed to make this decision because the current system was not working.

"This isn't a personal issue; the system failed," Aranibar said.

Other issues the transition team recognized were groups within the school district offices not communicating, and unbudgeted positions being filled.

"It is critical that all parties in finance and budget all collaborate together," Vogel said. "That is a piece that was missing."

Harvey said she saw low staff morale, and asked the transition team if there was a correlation between salary and academic progress of students.

Bobbi Vogel, Vogel's wife who serves on the transition team, said low morale comes from the lack of a clear operating vision.

"There needs to be a belief statement that drives you that everyone buys into," Bobbi Vogel said. "But we have to all believe and come together. Superintendent Mills wants a plan that lays out direction for the district, with goals that holds people accountable."

Miner said there has been a good connection of information.

"I did not see in the report how to better communicate and have better transparency," Miner said. "Every department should know what the others are doing. 'Let's not let them know until…' is the wrong attitude. We need to have information with no delay."

Griesheimer said leadership is key.

"You are the team that will get the district out of this morass," Griesheimer said. "The superintendent will not hide issues from the board, and the board will not hide issues from the superintendent. You will deal with issues up front."

Bill Vogel said the district has started rebuilding the budget, but the strategic plan is not in place right now.

Mills said he is submitting a letter to the state announcing the district will fall short of the required fund balance Tuesday, along with his 100-day plan. Mills said his letter will be available for public viewing Tuesday as well.

The Florida Department of Education will have 14 days to decide if his plan is sufficient to prevent a state takeover.

The citizens advisory group will meet June 19, and Vogel will answer more questions about transition team recommendations, as the board ran out of time for public questions during the transition team meeting Monday morning.

"The transition team has been doing a wonderful job helping us," Carpenter said.

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