I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Half-Million $Dollar Audit Fine a Bitter Pill to Swallow

To their credit, the staff of George Stone Vocational Center tried to get a handle on the administration of the Federal Pell Grant program back in 2012.  They proactively reached out to our internal audit team for assistance.  The trouble began once a key staff member retired and the record keeping became inconsistent at George Stone with respect to the student loan program.  Turnover became a problem as a number of staff were hired to manage this process and these new hires subsequently quit.

So the School Board's audit team came out to George Stone, conducted a review, and wrote this assessment of the program--complete with findings and management recommendations.  This report was dated June 5, 2012.

The problems were numerous:  Record keeping was lax, payments were made too late, verification of eligibility was sketchy, and important documentation was not readily accessible to the auditors.

Fast forward three years, to January 2015, and the district received a new, scathing review of the same program from the the Florida Auditor General's Office--the group that monitor's compliance with this program.

This past February, upon receiving a copy of the initial report, I had several long conversations with our internal auditor.  I wanted to understand what had gone wrong and what our potential liability was if these initial findings were confirmed.  The news was not good, and in February I was told of the multiple issues and potential next steps the board could take---and we could owe back as much as $300K.  That was bad enough.

But now, upon reading the final report, I see that the fine that the board is being asked to approve for repayment is almost 70% higher, just over $500,000.00!  How could this happen?

The key for me here is the date of this audit--- and more importantly the dates covered by this audit.

This audit covers the period from July 2013 to June 2014---a full 13 months after our own internal audit team uncovered massive problems with George Stone's Federal Student Loan program administration.

So the questions I'll now be asking, as a sitting board member, is why did we not implement the recommendations of our own audit team in 2012?  If we had implemented these recommendations, could we have avoided the problems from the following year that have led to this devastating audit finding?  What happened and why did this happen?  We had thirteen months, from June of 2012 when our own team provided assistance, until the beginning of the next year period (which would ultimately be the period of time that would be audited)

So now, after speaking with our Assistant Superintendent for Finance yesterday, I'm told this fine will be paid out of our General Fund.  I'm not happy about this.  There is an appeal provision, but I'm told we will not be appealing this fine.  Why not?  I want to know why we won't appeal to maintain the possibility of  mitigating this huge fine.

$500,000.00 would buy us 13 teachers for a full year.  $500,000.00 could have been used for staff bonuses for all of our 3,200 teachers.  $500,000.00 could have been used to pay for programs for students and families--but now it is, apparently, going to be flushed down the toilet.

What a waste.  I'll be asking a lot of questions about this on Monday.

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