Education

Report found eight issues in Manatee schools. Most of them have been fixed, district says

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Meet the members of the Manatee School Board and the schools they represent.

The School District of Manatee County said Thursday that the list of issues highlighted by Florida’s auditor general has been mostly resolved.

In April, the state released its report detailing eight major issues they found in an operational audit, which included the lack of background checks for contractors, ineffective planning for a new enterprise software system and the ability for certain district employees to view children’s sensitive information.

Deputy Superintendent Doug Wagner went over the list of findings and explained the district’s progress in fixing them with the Audit Committee. The review comes more than three months after the state released its report.

“We have been postponing for far too long,” said Audit Committee member Mary Foreman.

Of the eight issues, six of them have been corrected, Wagner explained. The final two fixes are scheduled to be corrected before the end of the year.

Superintendent Cynthia Saunders responded to the auditor general’s report in a letter dated April 8, noting the changes the school district would put in place. In recent weeks, the Florida Department of Education has sent letters to the district approving of the planned solutions.

“Our office has reviewed your response to the findings in Auditor General Report 2019-205, regarding the deficiencies and corrective actions and deem these actions to be satisfactory,” Randy Kosec Jr., chief of professional practices services, wrote in a June 28 letter.

“District staff should continue to monitor closely the background screening and re-screening process to ensure full compliance in the future,” he continued.

However, the issue of background screening is one of the issues that hasn’t been fully reconciled, according to Wagner. The district has developed a process that requires outside contractors to fill out a form listing all of their employees and their information into an electronic database that can be accessed by any school in the district. Part of that plan has already been introduced to Manatee schools.

“Our guardians are doing that. The front desk people are doing that,” Wagner said. “We do feel like we have a good process and we’re hoping by the end of August, the database will be up, it’ll be accessible and it’ll be real-time.”

In a separate letter dated July 1, Deputy Commissioner of the Division of Technology and Innovation Andre Smith, told Saunders that his staff has “reviewed the documentation relation to Information Technology finding Numbers 1, 7 & 8, and believe that appropriate corrective measures have been taken to resolve these findings.”

An item likely to take more time is the correction of a district policy on grandfathered salaries that conflicts with state law. Auditors said Manatee had improperly calculated salaries by not conducting performance reviews.

During bargaining discussions with the teacher union in the fall, the district will attempt to fix these issues.

“This one’s not going to be complete for a while because this has to be bargained with the Manatee Education Association,” Wagner explained. “We’re putting this forward this fall when we go to the table this fall for mediation and we’re going to see where we are.”

The auditor general is working to schedule a conference call for with the Audit Committee, but a date for that discussion has not been finalized yet. The next committee meeting is scheduled for Sept. 5.

Ryan Callihan is the Bradenton Herald’s County Reporter, covering local government and politics. On the weekends, he also covers breaking news. Ryan is a graduate of USF St. Petersburg.
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