Florida Keys News
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
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School board to discuss audit response

The Monroe County School Board will discuss the district's proposed official response to its latest state audit findings and recommendations when it meets at 3 p.m. today in Key West.

That preliminary and tentative audit was released Feb. 19 and contains nine findings -- one of them federal and four of them repeats from last year. A number of the repeats date back years, and the superintendent is legally bound to reply, in writing, to the Auditor General within 30 days of receiving the document. The reply must explain what the district has done and will do to remedy the issues.

Accordingly, today's meeting at the A.J. Henriquez Administration Building is the final opportunity board members will have to make their feelings on the subject known, before the superintendent sends his formal response to the attorney general before the March 19 deadline.

In his response, the superintendent addresses each issue point by point, with particular emphasis on the federal finding, which questions the level of Exceptional Student Education (ESE) services provided by the district.

"The district did not have procedures to monitor its compliance with maintenance of effort requirements, resulting in $1,330,629 of questioned costs," Porter writes.

Porter's response reads, in part, "Although the district agrees that a maintenance of effort issue existed in the 2012-13 fiscal year, we do not agree with the amount of the questioned costs. There is a fundamental difference in the methods used by the Auditor General and the Florida Department of Education, the agency responsible for resolving questioned costs. ... District staff has already been in contact with the Florida Department of Education in an effort to resolve this issue as expeditiously as possible. We anticipate resolution of this finding by the end of the current fiscal year."

Finding No. 8 relates to the controversial construction of the $37 million Horace O'Bryant School.

According to the attorney general, "Enhancements could be made to ensure that payments made on guaranteed price construction contracts are consistent with the contract terms and supporting documentation."

"Porter's reply: "The district will establish documented procedures to ensure the construction management entity payment requests are consistent with applicable subcontractor invoices, bids and contract documents ... within 90 days ... The procedures will also address project closeout and final accounting prior to making the final payment."

School Board Chairman Ron Martin, who represents District 5 in the Upper Keys, on Monday pronounced himself "satisfied" with Porter's responses, though he conceded there are still areas of concern to him in the report.

"I think that it's well explained what we're going to do, as well as what we have done to rectify these issues," Martin said. "This audit is better than the one before it, and the one before that, so we're on the road to good things. The ESE finding is probably the most serious issue, but we've already taken measures this year to take care of that, and the Worker's Comp issue is being whittled down. The Audit and Finance Committee met today, so [AFC Chairman Stuart] Kessler should have something to say about the district's response, in his report. Some of what we need to do is just paperwork, and some of it is at the school level."

Martin credited Porter's director of Finance and Performance, Jim Drake, with helping craft solutions to the district's financial issues.

"He seems to know Florida finance very well, so I think we're lucky to have him around," Martin said.

However, District 3 board member Ed Davidson, who frequently questions district policies, was less enthusiastic with the superintendent's response.

"I continue to be concerned with the Porter administration's tendency to downplay the seriousness of some of the audit findings," Davidson said. "For instance, while they crow about a lesser number of findings this year, it should be noted that there are easily 18 to 20 actual issues contained in the nine summary headings, most notably a host of serious discrepancies involved in the HOB construction debacle contained under a single heading. Furthermore, the first finding regarding the lack of a rational basis for employee compensation schedules, [finding No. 1] many of which have been heavily influenced in the past by political patronage and family relational genetics, is hardly a first-year finding at all. Many of these payroll inconsistencies can be traced directly back to the Acevedo regime. The auditor just got around to noticing it."

tschmida@keysnews.com

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