Audit committee role in school sales tax extension sharpened

If Manatee County voters approve extending the half-cent sales tax benefiting the school district, the school board’s volunteer audit committee will play an integral role in overseeing the expenditure.

The move to add overseeing the sales tax expenditure as part of the audit committee’s role was a move by the school board to help increase public trust in the district and public trust in the extension. The half-cent sales tax to benefit the school district, which has been in effect since 2002, will be on the Nov. 8 ballot. Manatee County government is also asking voters to approve a new half-cent sales tax to benefit county projects.

The sales tax revenue brings in about $30 million each year for the district.

The audit committee would oversee how the money was spent and serve as a watchdog to make sure the district is not spending the sales tax money inappropriately. The school board approved a resolution during a meeting Tuesday to sharpen the audit committee’s scope.

School board Chairwoman Karen Carpenter said she worked on the resolution for seven weeks with Jim Dye, the school board’s lawyer, and Joe Blitzko, the audit committee chairman.

“This is meant to really reassure people that we have this all buttoned down,” Carpenter said.

Within four months of the end of the district’s financial year, the finance department will provide a report to the audit committee that includes, according to the resolution:

  • Sales tax fund balance at the beginning of the fiscal year, sales tax remittances from the state of Florida, sales tax expenditures during the year and sales tax fund balance at the end of the fiscal year.
  • Actual revenues and expenses related to the half-cent sales tax compared to the annual budget, including a description of variances.
  • An identification and documentation of any amendments to the project list approved by the school board during the year under review.
  • For all half-cent sales tax expenditures, an assertion that each expenditure is in agreement with the resolution and the project list.

The audit committee is a volunteer committee in the district, mostly made up of retired certified public accountants in the community.

During an earlier workshop, in which the board did not take action, the board discussed a proposal from Superintendent Diana Greene about a grant program to share the sales tax revenue with the charter schools. Right now, charters do not see any of the sales tax revenue.

Charter schools enroll about 6,300 or 12 percent of all Manatee County public school children, according to the district.

Greene devised a non-competitive block grant program for the charters. Each year, the charters would submit a grant proposal to be reviewed by the school district. Charters would be able to spend the sales tax money on things like security and technology upgrades, according to Greene’s proposal.

The grant amount would be different for each charter and would be based on Public Education Outlay Funds, called PECO, the charter gets from the state each year. PECO funds are distributed by the state and help fund construction and maintenance projects.

Under Greene’s proposal, the district would use a five-year average of the PECO funds charters get from the state to come up with the maximum grant amount. If a charter has received an average of $500,000 in PECO money from the state for the last five years, charter officials could submit a grant for $500,000 of the sales tax revenue.

For the first year, Greene estimated the district would give about $1.5 million of the sales tax revenue to charters.

Makeup day is Oct. 24

In other business Tuesday, the school board again adjusted the calendar to make up for not having school Friday because of Hurricane Matthew.

“I apologize to everyone. I never want to make changes to the calendar. Sometimes we have to,” Greene said.

Oct. 24 will be a regular day for students at all schools. Students were not scheduled to go to school that day, which was planned for professional development. The development day has been added to the end of the school year for teachers, meaning teachers will attend on June 2.

Dec. 19, originally a half-day of school for high school and part of the end-of-semester exams, will be a full day of school for all students, and Thursday will be a half day instead of a full day for high school students. Dec. 20 through 22 will be half days for high school students when they take end-of-semester exams.

Meghin Delaney: 941-745-7081, @MeghinDelaney