Manatee County School Board selects internal auditors to clean up books

eearl@bradenton.comJuly 23, 2013 

MANATEE -- The Manatee County School Board chose Shinn and Co. LLC of Bradenton to perform internal audit services by a 4-1 vote Monday.

But they had conflicting views in moving forward with selecting a firm to look at the school's internal accounts, including revenue generated through after-school programs.

School board chairwoman Karen Carpenter said Shinn won out over the 10 responses to a request for proposal for auditing internal school accounts, which include the "buckets" of money from vending machines and athletic event ticket sales.

Only school board member Bob Gause voted for a different certified public accounting firm.

Shinn and Co. is owned by Byron Shinn, who served on the Manatee County School Board Citizens Advisory Committee during the superintendent search.

School board vice chairwoman Julie Aranibar and member Barbara Harvey said it is important to have a local, accessible firm, but there was debate over whether the request for proposal sent out without board approval violated the Sunshine Law.

Conley Weiss, a member of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents transition team, told each board member last month what was necessary to include in their request for proposal for internal auditing services.

Aranibar said the board did not meet to formally approve the request for proposal.

"I don't know how we can take action outside of the board room," Aranibar said. "That can't be how we do business. We have to do it here in front of each other."

"We got ahead of ourselves," Carpenter said.

New school board attorney James Dye said the request for proposal was put together without coming back to the board a final time for approval.

"It has to be at a board meeting to be final action. That is a Sunshine Law requirement," Dye said. "There are ways to cure this by approving the RFPs in an open meeting."

Carpenter said the transition team missed steps as it made recommendations in its haste to choose an auditor.

"There was a need for speed," Carpenter said. "The auditing of the schools' internal accounts is something that should be done over the summer."

School district attorney Scott Martin said a request for proposal is not required.

"It gave the board flexibility, and the board has the power to waive whatever portions they see fit," Martin said.

School board member Dave "Watchdog" Miner said the request for proposal did not violate the Sunshine Law because board members were told what was needed.

Superintendent Rick Mills agreed.

"The question was if the board members had given feedback individually, but there is no conflict," Mills said.

Gause said the school board must be cautious of the community's perception of what the board is doing.

"The community has to ask what is going on," Gause said. "We have major financial problems, and we made a decision to go outside to get quality firms. But it's about transparency, too."

The internal audit by Shinn and Co. will cost $58,500.

"We appreciate the confidence they have in us to assist in bringing about transparency and accountability," Shinn said.

The board is also seeking a CPA or firm to serve as internal auditor. The board decided to outsource internal audit services in May.

Mills said the district has $150,000 in the budget to pay an internal auditor plus audit internal school accounts.

The auditor chosen will meet immediately with the school board to work out a contract.

Within the first 90 days of the contract, auditors will check the district's payroll software, which was cited as one of the reasons for the school deficit.

Other checks include auditing worker compensation costs, financial statements reports, student enrollment data and unresolved costs from the past three fiscal years.

The board approved the request for quotation for a new internal auditor in a 4-1 vote, with only Gause voting against.

Miner said he does not see why Shinn and Co. cannot continue to serve as the internal auditor

"I don't see a problem with them also being the board's internal auditor. We don't have to go out for other firms," Miner said. "In the meantime, it wouldn't be a great expense to put this out and see what we get from other firms."

Submittals for the internal auditor are due by Aug. 7.

Gause said his concern is applicants will only have one week to ask questions, which he believes is too rushed.

"That's an important part of the process," Gause said.

Negotiations will conclude between the board and a selected firm by Aug. 26.

"The commission is to complete the audit and commence reviewing our policies since most have not seen much work since 2005 or 2006," Carpenter said. "The larger change needed regards changing the culture and climate of the district, which was in the transition team report. This will take longer than fixing the finances."

Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.

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