The seemingly never-ending examination of the $37 million Horace O'Bryant School construction project turned a new corner this week when school officials announced that the auditor, McGladrey LLP, of Chicago, has been granted a 30-day extension to get the job done.
The revelation takes place amidst the latest compromise between the school district and contractor Coastal Construction Group of Miami, whose numerous change orders raised red flags among reform-minded school board members such as Ed Davidson, representing District 3.
The school board hired McGladrey in October to conduct the audit but conceded in January the probe was heading nowhere, largely due to disagreements with Coastal over the scope and breadth of the investigation.
Though the district and contractor agreed last month to a non-judicial mediation brokered by former county Judge Sandra Taylor, Davidson and like-minded district observers such as Audit and Finance Committee Chairman Stuart Kessler, have complained of late that Coastal has been hampering the auditors' professional efforts to a degree never before experienced by that firm, which is one of the largest such outfits in the country.
McGladrey representatives have been granted access to Coastal's records room, but are said to have been barred from making photocopies of crucial documents, leading Davidson to conclude the entire exercise is a sham, formulated by Coastal to run out the clock on their judicial liabilities.
"They're allowed to go into the records room with a pencil and paper," Davidson said. "As a result of my disclosure to the school board last Tuesday that we were not in fact getting the scope and depth of the HOB school audit, our lawyers have filed for a 30-day extension of the former mediation deadline. This was supported unanimously after I pointed out that the auditing team would otherwise have only 21 days to conduct what was supposed to have been a 60-day audit. Furthermore, none of the school board members had been informed that the company had refused to provide electronic computer data files or even allow the auditors to make any paper copies of any of the cost documentation on this $37 million taxpayer-funded project."
Superintendent of Schools Mark Porter couldn't be reached by press time Sunday evening, but last week said he felt Coastal was acting in good faith as far as the mediation agreement was concerned.
"Lack of cooperation is inaccurate," Porter said last week. "I've spoken to McGladrey, and they've told me that they're on site and have been since [July 21]," Porter said. "They've also said that they're on course to finish their preliminary report by the deadline of Aug. 5."
Also last week it was revealed that McGladrey was requesting additional money, in the neighborhood of $20,000 to $28,000, due to the extra legwork involved with physically visiting Coastal's offices.