State IG closes probe into former Manatee school officials

mdelaney@bradenton.comJune 27, 2014 

BRADENTON -- The financial activities of the Manatee County School District's former senior leadership team does not warrant further investigation, according to the Office of the Inspector General.

The school district released a statement Thursday afternoon, saying after a preliminary investigation, the IG has ruled further investigation into the district's leadership team from 2010-2012, including former Superintendent Tim McGonegal, is not warranted.

"We accept and respect the inspector general's decision and thank them for their work," Superintendent Rick Mills said in a statement.

According to the June 20 letter sent to the district, state officials reviewed documents and interviewed employees to make a determination. The letter, signed by Inspector General Mike Blackburn, states district officials can contact him if more evidence is found or new allegations arise.

The preliminary investigation looked into three different allegations, Blackburn wrote:

• McGonegal purposely delayed notifying the Manatee County School Board of the impending deficit.

• McGonegal intentionally misled the board about the district budget shortfall by presenting false or misleading documents.

• McGonegal violated a state statute by incurring "indebtedness against the school district funds in excess of the expenditure allowed by law, or in excess of any appropriation as adopted in the original official budget."

The Office of Inspector General conducts investigations with the Department of Education into employee misconduct and allegations involving fraud, waste and abuse and whistleblower complaints, according to its website.

In a written request dated March 6, Mills asked the inspector general for the Florida Department of Education to get involved based on concerns raised by audit findings for the 2012-13 fiscal year. The audit resulted in 44 findings, amounting to more than $10 million in questionable funding. The audit findings also required the district to restore millions in mismanaged funds.

Prior to the audit setback, the district projected an $8.2 million fund balance by fiscal year-end June 30. Instead, the fund balance is now projected at nearly $2.5 million by the end of the year, significantly below the state-required minimum of 3 percent.

After the audit findings, community members questioned who was responsible for past financial failures, according to the district statement. Mills said some community members wanted a second forensic audit, which the district could not afford. Mills asked the inspector general to bring clarity to the issues.

"Although there are still pending financial concerns unrelated to the inspector general's investigation, we remain focused on our primary mission of educating our students," Mills said.

Mills and school board Chairwoman Julie Aranibar sent a follow-up complaint to the state March 21 after requesting IG assistance.

The complaint concludes a timely investigation is needed to protect all civil claims the district could impose on McGonegal and any others found accountable. The school board complaint said the district deficit in the fund balance "may constitute malfeasance and gross negligence in multiple areas of the financial reporting."

McGonegal served as superintendent from Jan. 1, 2009, to Sept. 10, 2012. Prior, he served as assistant superintendent of business from Feb. 1, 2005, to Dec. 31, 2008, and as executive director of finance from Jan. 2, 2002, to Jan. 31, 2005.

McGonegal resigned following disclosure of a $3.4 million budget deficit. McGonegal did not return a request for comment Thursday evening.

To prevent future audit discrepancies, the district hired an internal auditor who reports directly to the board in public meetings. The district also instituted a voluntary audit committee that reviews internal audit reports.

"The Manatee County School District now has the proper internal and external controls in place to monitor, prevent and protect the district's financial status," Mills said.

Aranibar said she also worked with Mills on the statement sent Thursday in response to the inspector general's ruling and stressed it is important for the public to know measures are now in place to help prevent similar instances in the future.

"We've now put in the controls," she said.

Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.

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