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Friday, March 28, 2014
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School district's final audit released
Auditor General upholds 8 state findings, 1 federal finding

It's final: The eight state findings and one federal finding contained in the preliminary tentative audit report of the Monroe County School District's 2012-13 fiscal year, have been upheld by the Florida Auditor General.

The final audit was posted online March 21 at http://www.myflorida.com/audgen/

The preliminary audit, which was released Feb. 22, was hailed by Superintendent Mark Porter as proof that the district is heading in the right direction, though not without some growing pains.

Despite its four repeat findings, Porter pointed to the 2011-12 audit, which contained 19 findings, as proof that the district's finances are on the mend, following the global financial crisis and 2009 scandal during the Randy Acevedo administration. He did concede that there was work left to be done before his administration would be satisfied with its financial status.

As required by law, Porter responded to the preliminary audit earlier this month. Though Porter and Jim Drake, his executive director of Finance and Performance, accepted the substance of the 2012-13 findings, they disputed the dollar amount mentioned in the federal finding, which involved Exceptional Student Education, saying that the Auditor General was using a different methodology than the state Department of Education (DOE) in making its calculations.

On Thursday, Porter, who is in Tallahassee for a superintendent's conference, reiterated his depiction of the current audit as mostly an improvement over last year's.

"It is nearly identical to what we originally reviewed," Porter said. "And I think we've said about all we can about it. It's a mixed result, demonstrating the kind of improvement we want to see. Ultimately, though, we're not going to be happy until we see a completely clean audit."

School board Chairman Ron Martin on Thursday echoed Porter's views.

"It's pretty much what we expected," Martin said. "It shows that we're improving, but we still have work to do. I'm satisfied."

But District 3 board member Ed Davidson, who has been the most consistent critic on the board of many of Porter's policies, was less kind in his appraisal of the final audit.

"Despite the excuses and rationalizations put forward by senior school district officials, the auditor general's final findings did not change a single word," Davidson said Thursday. "While the administration has also assigned self-merit to having a lesser number of findings than recent previous years, it is to be noted that finding No. 8, on the multiple serious irregularities in the Horace O'Bryant School construction project, actually encompasses 10 to 15 discrepancies, totaling several million dollars in inappropriately spent taxpayer dollars. This makes the aggregate total of audit issues closer to 20 than nine."

On the issue of the federal finding, which questions the district's monitoring of maintenance of effort requirements, resulting in $1,330,629 of questionable costs in the Exceptional Student Education program, Porter again pointed to what he called differing methodology between the Auditor General and DOE.

"The questioning of the figure is how the Auditor General and DOE calculate their numbers," Porter said. "We were never questioning the work of the auditors. Using the criteria the Auditor General applies, I guess that's the correct number."

Porter added his administration has already done considerable work toward achieving a better audit next year, in time for the cutoff of the 2013-14 fiscal year at the end of June.

"We've already gone to work, especially with the four repeats and the federal finding," Porter said. "We definitely don't want to see those findings a year from now."

That explanation isn't good enough for Davidson, who called it "noteworthy" that the federal finding "remains listed as a 'material weakness,' the most serious audit category."

He also took issue with finding No. 1, involving the rationale for certain employee salaries, asserting that the Auditor General has only now discovered what has actually been true for a year.

"Although four of this year's findings are repeat offenses a fifth issue raised by finding No. 1 about dramatic inconsistencies in noninstructional employee salaries, has in fact existed for many years, all the way back to the heyday of the discredited Acevedo administration," Davidson said.

Porter vowed to press ahead with strategies to eventually produce a finding-free audit, and bridge the gap between the Auditor General and DOE on the ESE figures.

"Mr. Drake has worked closely to have that specific finding resolved by the end of the fiscal year," Porter said. "Our goal is to address it so that it is not in any way, shape, or form in the 2012-14 audit."

tschmida@keysnews.com

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