Manatee School Audit Committee struggles with state response

eearl@bradenton.comDecember 12, 2013 

MANATEE-- The Manatee County School District Audit Committee left their three-hour meeting Wednesday with many loose ends to tie regarding the State Auditor General report, which showed 33 operational deficiencies that could amount to a nearly $9 million reduction in the district general fund.

"We were moving money from pot to pot, and we had information that didn't make sense and that was not tracked. We could not get data," school board chairwoman Julie Aranibar said. "We are very frustrated by that. The train literally went off the track."

Aranibar said the district response to the state audit -- due Dec. 20 -- involves putting accounts in order, and reconciling revenues with community, teachers and staff.

The second half of the audit will be released Friday, according to Superintendent Rick Mills, and he has said he expects it to add to the district's financial burden.

Aranibar, Manatee County School Board internal auditor Byron Shinn and the nine-member audit committee discussed recommendations for an action plan. The audit committee is only 2 months old, and still defining its policies.

Audit committee member Rick Kimsey expressed concerns about the lack of district data.

"How are we doing metric-wise in each school? If I were in your shoes, I would be wanting to know," Kimsey said.

Understaffing, especially in exceptional student education, was named an operational deficiency in the audit. Aranibar said parents have even filed lawsuits before regarding the understaffing. Many audit findings have been reported four times in a row, Aranibar said.

The audit committee decided a new external auditor should be appointed. Hiring an external auditor is a school board function, but the audit committee recommends the auditor.

From 2005-12, external audits have been done by Mauldin and Jenkins of Atlanta. The audit committee wants to replace Mauldin and Jenkins with a new external auditor by April.

The committee will also continue to monitor audits

and report to the board at public meetings. For the next month, those updates will include what responses to the auditor general have been documented.

The school board will discuss corrective actions at a 2 p.m. workshop Wednesday. Under each finding, the corresponding department head is expected to recommend a response.

The district must confront technology security issues, too, including data software programs.

"We will see progression and accountability, and the public will be happier," Shinn said.

An internal audit dashboard will be available on the district website next year.

Aranibar said costs such as health care have been buried in the past due to poor record-keeping.

"The audit report glaringly talks about policies, and the lack thereof, with things like position control," Shinn said. "Now we have to fix it."

Aranibar said the district policy and procedure manual will be updated next year.

"We can't keep stalling," Aranibar said. "In the past we have said we will comply but never did."

Aranibar said another year of noncompliance could jeopardize millions in state funding.

Tommy Crosby, new district director of finance, told the audit committee the district lacks a time and attendance system.

"A lot of concerns seen in the audit reports have to do with controls in place," Crosby said.

Crosby said the district audit response must include compiling accurate district data. There are costs attached to that, Crosby said, and he is discussing it with Mills.

Blitzker said it will be different next year when the audit is well understood by the committee.

"We will go to meetings and go forward from there with more insight into what management in doing," Blitzker said. "We will plan follow-ups."

The next audit committee meeting is 3 p.m. Jan. 8.

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

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