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Schools and Education New Allegations Surface in Mishandled Manatee School District Budget


BRADENTON -- During Monday's School Board meeting, Peggy Martin and Linda Schaich came forward with new allegations on the mishandling of the 2012-2013 budget. Martin claimed that, contrary to the numbers given by the school board, there may be a deficit of $44 million lurking in the budget. She also told the board that the state may soon be investigating the district's audit committee. The governor's office has reportedly shown initiative in addressing concerns about the committee's desire to focus on only a very small part of the catastrophic 2012-2013 budget.

Martin advised the board that the Taxpayer Watch Committee has sent a letter to Governor Rick Scott "about the way the audit committee is being conducted by the school district," and that the governor has already signaled action by assigning a case number. Martin said that a request for a full forensic audit was made in the letter, which she and Linda Schaich claim is not aligned with the intentions of the audit committee. Manatee School Board Chair Harry Kinnan, who is also chairman of the committee meetings on the budget's audit, has repeatedly called for a conspicuously narrow-sounding audit with a "laser pinpoint focus," aimed at the payrolls for new teachers that were unaccounted for in the budget -- former Superintendent Tim McGonegal's reason given for the $8 million shortfall.

Schaich said at the meeting that reviewing the budget is the board's main responsibility, and that "they have not been given the opportunity to compare last year's actual expenditures to this year's upcoming budget." She also said that anything less than a broad and comprehensive audit would be "less than criminal."

Schaich has long been a financial watchdog at board meetings, and recently said that Kinnan's want of a narrow scope for the upcoming audit is a "whitewash."

In a letter to The Times, Schaich broke down the $44 million into five areas: a $10 million budget error from the 2011-2012 year; a $13 million shortfall being addressed by the upcoming audit; $8 million not identified in the 2011-2012 year; $5 million in penalties from a FLDOE audit, as well as an $8 million shortfall in the budget's Mandatory Healthcare Reserve. She stated: "The audit committee consists of two citizens and three school district employees, one of whom is the district internal auditor who is the first person who should have discovered the error and reported it to the board and did neither. This probably will not be a fair or complete audit."

Dr. Richard Connor, speaking on behalf of citizens group Neighbors United For A Better Education, also addressed the board on the graveness of the district's financial situation.

"As soon as the board announces who the auditor will be, I would hope that the board would take under advisement the extensiveness on this audit," he said, concluding by saying that "anything less than a complete understanding by the citzenry as well as this board (will not be) acceptable."


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