After weeks of rumors and speculation regarding the hiring of an internal auditor, Monroe County Superintendent of Schools Mark Porter on Thursday evening made it official, signing a contract with Key West Certified Public Accountant -- and former School Board member -- Steve Pribramsky.
Pribramsky, a partner at Pribramsky Zuelch, will be charged with sorting through a multitude of financial issues related to the construction of what will soon become the Horace O'Bryant K-8 school.
"The ink is drying as we speak," Porter said Thursday evening. "The HOB construction has been a long, ongoing project that has involved many different individuals, so I think that it's a good investment of public resources to bring in this kind of professional to make sure we have both a completed project, and a publicly accountable project. We had some informal contact with other organizations, but none of them were as prepared to get started on this right away as Mr. Pribramsky was."
The district's own monetary issues, laid out in an 18-finding audit earlier this year, will not be subject to Pribramsky's probe.
"There is auditing, and there is what is called attestation," said Pribramsky. Webster's New World College Dictionary defines attestation as the act of declaring something true or genuine.
"What we're going to be doing falls under the attestation side. There are 15 things they want us to look at. Basically they want me and my team to look at the ins and outs, the change orders, all the things that are of concern to (School Board member) Ed (Davidson), and the whole board, really."
Pribramsky said a provision in his letter of engagement to Porter will allow him to bring in outside experts, whose reports to him will become part of the final report.
"In the engagement letter you'll see that if there are things they ask me to do that I can't, I'll report on that," Pribramsky said. "If we come across anything material or relevant they may tell us to look into it a little deeper, or not. If we couldn't get records or cooperation, we'll tell them that."
Pribramsky will report to Porter and the board. He expects to be finished with his task by June 24.
His four-person team will include auditor Rick Captain of Boca Raton; local CPA Liz Miller, who currently works at Pribramsky & Zuelch; Certified Fraud Examiner Bud Halldorson, also a college accounting professor; and Richard Grassano, another CPA who works with Pribramsky, and who also has an office in Boca Raton.
"The most important thing about all ... of them is that they're all available to start work Friday, and they can work almost full time on this for me for the next four to six weeks," Pribramsky said. "We're ready to get started now; we just need to nail down a few details."
Pribramsky's hiring appears designed to allay the concerns of District 3 board member Davidson, who has been pushing the idea of an internal auditor for the past month or so. At the April 23 School Board meeting in Marathon, Davidson attempted to nominate Audit and Finance Committee member Stuart Kessler to the position, but the other members present -- including District 1 member Robin Smith-Martin, and District 5's Ron Martin -- demurred, saying they felt the responsibility for making such a hire should fall to the superintendent.
"The overall goal of this review is to ensure that all appropriate documentation for all expenditures has been presented and reviewed, because I have found major gaps in documentation specifically required by the terms of the contract," Davidson said Thursday. "After my repeated demands, we finally got a Bank of America grant disbursement journal, which differs from School District expenditure accounts by $1.8 million, $909,550 of which are specific payment denials which occurred on six different occasions -- and which the School Board only found out about on April 30."
The importance of this mismatch, Davidson noted, is that the district is required by federal regulations to "zero-out" the construction fund account five weeks from now, and at present the board doesn't know how much to write the check for.
"While a contractor's contingency fund of $563,569 was required, the School Board has no accounting of what has or has not been written off against this reserve, instead of paying bills directly to the taxpayer," Davidson continued. "A number of change orders appear to represent such direct billings, which should have been applied to this reserve instead. Of the 10 percent of contract payments which were supposed to be retained until the end of the project, which formerly totaled $840,070, the School Board once again has no accounting of what has become of that reserve."
On Monday, the district's Audit and Finance Committee produced a unanimous recommendation to the School Board that no further payments be made to the contractor, Coastal Construction Inc., without insisting on the extensive supporting documentation that has always been required, but was seldom produced, Davidson said.
"Extensive review of more than two dozen disputed change-order issues will also require the production of extensive documentation, some of which I have been requesting for months to no avail," he said.
"The deliberate delays and lack of cooperation have become so frustrating that I'm prepared to call for a special meeting of the School Board if this contract is not signed in the next 48 hours," Davidson had warned early Thursday.
Pribramsky said the contract he signed with Porter calls for pay ranging from $15,000 and $18,000, plus an allowance of several thousand dollars for copying and printing expenses.
"We'll bill our normal rates, which are about $250 per hour," Pribramsky said. "We charge about $150 per hour for staff. I'll be working over the weekend to put together a work plan. Then we'll start fresh on Monday."