On the same night that school board members crafted language for the ballots that will ask voters for more money in March, they learned that reconciliation of bank accounts for the School District of Manatee County has been seriously tardy.
In an unexpected development at Tuesday’s school board meeting, Susan Agruso, a community volunteer who has been asked to provide oversight for the school board over the district’s financial matters, announced during her regular audit committee report that reconciliation of the district’s various bank accounts, which should be done monthly, is months behind — and was, at one point, 11 months behind.
She described the situation as a “serious” threat to completion of the district’s fiscal 2017 audit which must be done by January.
District financial officer Rebecca Roberts said the district is now caught up through April and will be caught up through June by Nov. 22.
But Agruso told board members — who appeared stunned — that there was no evidence of malpractice or laxity, but rather, a technology issue.
“It was due to a computer problem in December,” Agruso said.
Asked why it has taken so long for the district to recover, Agruso said she couldn’t answer that question.
Superintendent Diane Greene called on Roberts to respond to Agruso’s findings. Roberts confirmed that a computer issue virtually shut down the reconciliation process, but she said the problem is being addressed.
“So, we’re aware of the problem, and we are working on a solution,” school board Chairman Charlie Kennedy said.
When he heard about the problem, school board member John Colon, who is rarely at a loss for words, was at a loss for words.
“I’m speechless,” Colon said, speaking to Agruso. “Will you come back at the next meeting and give us an updated report?”
Agruso assured him she would.
New language is “crystal clear”
Despite the disappointment over the late reconciliation of the district’s checkbooks, board members crafted “crystal clear” language, according to Kennedy, for the ballot that voters will see on March 20 when they will decide if the district is deserving of an additional 1 mill of ad valorem property tax that could generate $33 million.
The new language highlights that the money will strictly be used to increase student achievement through more instructional time, for after-school tutoring, to recruit and retain teachers and staff with competitive salaries, to expand Career and Technical Education and STEM programs and to support charter schools.
But a separate report prepared by Greene and read at the meeting exemplified the need for the additional revenue.
Greene’s staff researched comparable salaries of teachers, bus drivers and principals in the area and found that Manatee is woefully behind.
What they found, for instance, was that the average salaries for a teacher, bus driver and principal in the School District of Manatee — $45,778, $19,062 and $83,218 respectively — were markedly different from the average salaries for a Sarasota teacher, bus driver and principal, which are currently $54,524, $12,211 and $103,938.
“The bus driver is lower because they are part-time in Sarasota,” Greene told the board.