For a school district worth millions or an average family, an essential task is reconciling the checkbook monthly to make sure the checks were written for the right amounts and the balance is correct.
“A district is the same as a lay person: You spend money, you get money in, you want to make sure it balances,” said Susan Agruso, a former school superintendent from New York state who is now the chairwoman of the School Board of Manatee County’s audit committee, a six-person, volunteer unit that oversees the auditing process in the school district.
But at the end of 2016, the School District of Manatee County discovered it couldn’t reconcile its entire ledger and ensure that the checks were right, because its main computer was so antiquated that checks it had just issued to employees did not match the check numbers it recorded for those employees in the system, chief financial officer Rebecca Roberts said Wednesday.
We understand that the public will perceive this as something terrible. I’m not saying it isn’t. But what we are saying is that the district had an unfortunate event that caused a delay and that once it was fixed, the audit committee thinks the bank regs should have been a priority.
Susan Agruso, chairwoman, School Board of Manatee County audit committee
Bank reconciling was impossible from December 2016 to Sept. 7, when computer experts finally fixed the glitch, Roberts said.
At Tuesday’s school board meeting, Agruso gave board members the disturbing news that, despite having their old computer system back up and running since Sept. 7, the district’s financial team was still lagging seven months behind on completing its bank reconciling for fiscal year 2017.
Manatee is a school district that has had financial irregularities in the past and is on the cusp of asking Manatee voters in March 2018 to support a property tax hike of 1-mill to raise roughly $33 million in new revenue.
The district has completed bank reconciling through April, with May and June targeted by Nov. 22 and July through October before the district closes for the winter break, Roberts said.
It was a priority. I can assure you that my staff was on top of that. On Sept. 7 the problem was corrected and we began working on the bank regs immediately.
Ron Ciranna, Manatee deputy superintendent, business services
Agruso’s audit committee was created five years ago because of the district’s financial woes at the time. Although she praises the district for improving the managing of its finances since then, Agruso on Wednesday said district finance officials have taken their eyes off the ball since Sept. 7 in regard to getting the bank reconciling completed.
Agruso said she doesn’t believe anything underhanded has occurred or that, when what she terms as “the bank recs” are done, they will find any irregularities. But she and her colleagues feel the bank recs should be much more up to date.
“We understand that the public will perceive this as something terrible,” Agruso said. “I’m not saying it isn’t. But what we are saying is that the district had an unfortunate event that caused a delay and that once it was fixed, the audit committee thinks the bank recs should have been a priority.”
On Wednesday, Ron Ciranna, Manatee’s deputy superintendent of business services, vehemently denied that the finance department didn’t prioritize getting the bank recs done since Sept. 7.
“It was a priority,” Ciranna said. “I can assure you that my staff was on top of that. On Sept. 7, the problem was corrected and we began working on the bank recs immediately.”
Said Roberts, “The bank recs could not occur until the problem was resolved on Sept. 7, and as soon as it happened we began to prioritize the bank recs. There was nothing we could have done differently or more quickly. Bank recs are very important.”
Agruso said she and her fellow committee members, in meetings over the past few months, never asked the district for a bank rec update and just assumed the recs were just about up to date.
“On Nov. 8, when we were informed it was so far behind and delayed further, we decided this was not a good thing and we told the school district we would report it to the board,” Agruso said. “The board set up an accountability process that has worked. That is what is important here. They got behind on stuff. They had to set priorities, and priorities were not set and we told them, ‘We understand you are busy, but you have to make this a priority.’”
The district is set to go on line on July 1, 2018, with a new $19 million computer system.