Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

It Can't Be So

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

It Can't Be So

Article excerpt

MANATEE: School officials initially thought shortfall would 'go away'

MANATEE COUNTY

School officials trying to figure out how a financial meltdown occurred, and why they learned about it so late, focused on a meeting that took place last August.

Five weeks before revealing a $3.4 million budget deficit to board members and the public on Sept. 7, former superintendent Tim McGonegal held a meeting to discuss a "potential" deficit with a small group of six employees.

The mood was calm. Everyone thought the deficit was a mistake. It would "go away," an accounting manager would later tell forensic auditors hired in the fall to unearth the cause.

At a special meeting in the Manatee County Commission chambers, two investigators from the global consulting firm Navigant spoke to members of the school board, audit committee and the public, who wanted to know why no one saw the signs for more than $8 million in overspending for the 2011-12 school year sooner.

Only two members of the public spoke at Thursday's meeting, where the board reflected on the events that rocked the district this school year.

School board member David Miner questioned if mistakes that included replacing the computer program that tracked hiring in the district for a faulty manual process were gross negligence.

Investigator Al Robinson wanted to call a broken budget process - - fueled by lack of oversight pinned on retired assistant superintendent Jim Drake and a crucial decision to remove "position control" -- the perfect storm.

"I would think that competent people in charge of a district would know already that they should have been doing these things," Miner said.

Robinson said that many in the finance department in 2009 and 2010 were new, and some didn't have experience specifically in school finance.

"It was a difficult time," Robinson said. "Position control that had been used for ten years to develop the budget was turned off at that time -- a decision they didn't make."

Chief Financial Officer Michael Boyer, hired last May after the 2011-2012 budget was developed, has always maintained that the public doesn't quite understand how big of an impact the decision to pull position control was and what a burden it placed on employees. …

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