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pinion Guest Op/Ed: School District Audit at a Crossroad

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Despite the many wonderful things our schools provide, such as robotics, engineering, vocational training and football, Manatee’s schools have been poorly served at the top, stamping us as the gang which can neither count straight nor plan for our future. The Manatee School District has a poor reputation in surrounding counties and in Tallahassee. If you need a cheap laugh, mention Manatee in your punch line.

We now have a chance for a fresh start. A very upset public has been promised an audit which will get to the bottom of our budget problems. Recently, the auditing firm of Maulden & Jenkins spoke to the board and stated very strongly that the district has systemic problems “occurring for years” with its vacation payout and worker’s compensation rates. They have revealed that there are more expenses not accounted for last year and that finding documentation has been difficult.

They have made it clear that the supposed $8 million shortfall presented by former Superintendent Tim McGonegal after five weeks of failing to disclose massive budgetary problems, is not where the problem is. That is simply a posting problem, which is exactly what I have been saying for quite some time. We are looking where Mr. McGonegal wants us to look, not at the real problem. It is still imperative that we find out who knew about this problem and when, as well as why they did not report it to the board in a timely fashion.

Enter Harry Kinnan, Board Chair, who has vowed to use a mere “laser, pinpoint focus” in an effort to trivialize the audit and to make this matter go away quickly and quietly so that he can salvage what is left of his legacy.

That is where the matter stands now. If we allow him to have his way, the mistrust and cynicism will continue. Instead, let us stand our ground and count the weeks (five) until his term expires and a new board is in place. At that point, we need to insist on a full forensic audit.

Linda Schaich is a long-time school district activist and former school board candidate, who specializes in accounting issues.


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