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Letter to the Editor: Vigilance Needed in School District Malfeasance


At the core of my personal concern regarding the state of the Manatee County School District's dire financial situation, is that we have not seen the school district turn the corner away from fiscal mismanagement to responsible stewards of the community and state tax dollars. While our new Superintendent struggles to correct past misdeeds in financial management, the auditors continue to discover both past illegal use of funds and ongoing misuse.

We cannot ignore the salient point that since the retirement of Drake, the resignation of McGonegal, and the lose of Fraser, those top three individuals that participated in the 2009-2012 discoveries of financial mismanagement have not been employed with the school district and cannot be held accountable for the discoveries of continuing problems throughout 2013. Simply put, there is still a systemic problem with financial management that Mills has not yet eliminated (and to be fair, there have been many issues that he has had to contend with concerning the deep problems of unethical, immoral and corrupt staff working for this district - we are fortunate that he hasn't abandoned this district).

Confidence is not restored because we declare the culprits gone. Confidence is restored by demonstrating accuracy, stability and responsibility. This is a matter that will take years of verifiable and validated reports to achieve. And it is a matter that is established with public participation and active involvement.

But, I do understand their desire to stop spending money on audits. For every review that is conducted, the discoveries of mismanagement and illegal use of funds becomes more widespread. One can only conclude from the breadth and depth of the discoveries that each and every account and every designated fund was used to cover misspending of finances during the past decade.

Some of the 'conclusions' (for lack of a better term) that have are:

(1) There is no evidence of embezzlement

(2) There is ample evidence of inappropriate enrichment of key administrators at a time when the district was suffering from deficits and shrinking funds

(3) Malfeasance, misfeasance and nonfeasance most certainly occurred during the McGonegal administration as evidenced by the findings of internal and State audits.

(4) Scarce resources (revenue) was inappropriately used for unnecessary staffing, consulting and other discretionary items - while not illegal, the use of scarce funds resulted in malfeasance to hide the fiscal mismanagement

(5) The community was ejected from access to the budget process and frequently scolded for stating fallacies in the McGonegal financial reports and budget; the failure to provide transparency, and, worse, the abuse and maligning of community members that provided foreshadowing of the coming severe financial crisis only heightens the reason why public distrust of this body exists.  

(6) Consulting fees and contracts (especially involving capital funds for acquisition and construction) will not disclose illegal use (beyond the shifting of funds from a designated use to cover alternate expenses) but will disclose inflated spending, unnecessary spending, inappropriate & unintended spending, and financial enrichment based on political relationships rather than student/district needs.

I fully understand that further audits will (a) add to costs that this district cannot afford, and (b) not provide new discoveries but simply add to the growing list of known financial mismanagement.  I also understand that these discoveries could - and should - result in criminal charges of malfeasance, misfeasance and nonfeasance for past and, potentially, current staff of the district.  Such proceedings would incur costs for the legal defense of these individuals - or so I would assume.

The consequences, however, of not following through with a criminal investigation is the continued distrust of this district.  We have already seen the public vote down a sales-tax referendum last year for the County due to unethical conduct. The public rejected a millage increase for the school district because of factual inaccuracies by McGonegal just a few years ago. How do you feel the public will act if the MCSD ever asks for an extension of the 1/2 cent sales tax (set to expire soon) or any other tax increase? If the district ever wants to restore confidence among the community, it must do two things:

(1) Require a criminal investigation centered around the financial mismanagement of this district knowing that probable charges of Malfeasance, Misfeasance and Nonfeasance will be levied on those individuals responsible for causing and/or enabling the financial crisis at MCSD.

(2) Complete audit of all accounts to ascertain that ongoing operations and capital accounts have no further misuse. 

Confidence isn't restored because a new year has started... or you decree that it must be so. It is restored by demonstrating that you will act responsibly and will pursue appropriate actions against those individuals that have corrupted the system and acted unethically and illegally.

As the public has seen criminal investigations pursued regarding certain unethical and illegal conduct regarding students, so too should it expect that equal treatment be provided regarding the requirements and duties for the financial stewards of the district.

Malfeasance, Misfeasance and Nonfeasance.

The statutes exist for a reason. Avoidance of these crimes simply encourages repeat offenses. We are here, today, with this calamity because the 2009-2010 Board members avoided responsibility and allowed this behavior. Their failure to address irregularities and past audit infractions opened the door for the unethical conduct to spread.

Malfeasance, Misfeasance and Nonfeasance.
Demand the investigation.
Demand the charges.

James Ferguson
Manatee County


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