Manatee School District making progress with financial issues, receives praise

BRADENTON -- The Manatee County School District's external auditors gave glowing compliments on its one-year fiscal turnaround during Wednesday's Audit Committee meeting.

"It was amazing to see the switch in the financial condition in the school district from one year to the other," said Dan O'Keefe, an auditor from Moore Stephens Lovelace, the Clearwater-based external auditor.

O'Keefe said the district hasn't hit the "sweet spot" of about 5 percent in reserves yet but is on its way.

The audit found no significant errors to be adjusted on district financial statements.

Audit Committee Chairman Joe Blitzko questioned the results.

"That's the first question people ask," Blitzko said.

"How did they do it?"

Other committee members echoed Blitzko's concerns and were skeptical the auditors didn't suggest how the district could strengthen its financial position.

"They ought to be able to find something," said committee member Barbara Vedder. "There's always suggestions for improvements."

O'Keefe said constant monitoring of the budget gave the district a bump in achieving the fiscal turnaround.

Blitzko said it is important to note the district also got more revenues to help achieve the turnaround.

The turnaround was a team effort, said Rebecca Roberts, district chief financial officer.

"Everyone had a hand in controlling the money and how it was used, even down to the schools," Roberts said.

Blitzko also said he was disappointed the audit notes were similar to the previous two years and the new firm didn't suggest any changes, as one would typically expect from auditors taking a fresh look at finances.

"That's my disappointment: That your firm didn't go and take that extra step," Blitzko said.

O'Keefe said they would work on it.

Internal auditors Shinn & Co. of Bradenton, presented draft reports on four topics: human resources/payroll, dual enrollment fees for students at Manatee Technical College, the Jessica Lunsford Act and the Pell Grant program at Manatee Technical College.

The reports on human resources and payroll, Jessica Lunsford and the Pell Grant program were unsatisfactory but some issues raised have already been addressed. The auditors found four concerns abut dual enrollment fees at MTC.

Overall, auditor Byron Shinn said over the phone, the culture at the district is changing.

"I think we have an environment and culture that's very positive and wants help," Shinn said, and changes are being implemented to comply with the draft report findings. "There are some areas that are going to need attention."

The district has action plans for each item, Roberts told the committee.

In other news Wednesday:

Audit committee members will receive district-issued email addresses, which Blitzko has been requesting.

Audit Committee member Judith Lammers, resigned over scheduling conflicts, Blitzko said.

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