Manatee County Schools' leaders hoped deficit would go away

 

Manatee County Schools' leaders hoped deficit would go away

 

Date: February 22, 2013
by: Josh Siegel | Staff Writer

 
 

Prior to former Manatee County Schools Superintendent Tim McGonegal's announcement of a 2011-12 $3.4 million budget deficit to the school board and public, district leaders had hoped the deficit would go away.

On Aug. 2, 2012, a little over a month before McGonegal revealed the deficit to the school board Sept. 7, 2012, the former superintendent and six finance employees discussed a possible deficit of $5 million.

The $5 million figure came before adjusting entries in the budget and those in the meeting had “hoped it would go away,” an district accounting manager told forensic auditors hired to find the deficit’s cause.

The school board and an audience featuring only two members of the public attended a special meeting Thursday night in the Manatee County Commission Chambers, questioning two investigators from Navigant about its 200-page-plus audit report released in mid-January.

That report blamed former Assistant Superintendent Jim Drake and flawed processes for many of the accounting errors that led to the budget shortfall. Former superintendent Tim McGonegal, who resigned in September, was hands-off with budget, handing off most of the responsibility to Drake, who rarely responded to emails and lacked communication skills, the report said.

The special meeting came after the district posted more than 16,000 pages of supporting documents related to the report on its website, Feb. 1.

Navigant’s Al Robinson, formerly with the FBI, reaffirmed his investigation found no criminal conduct from district employees.

They did not purposely hide the deficit from the public, Robinson said.

After school board member Dave Miner questioned how a finance staff and administration hired to do its jobs could be so incompetent, Robinson said Drake had little experience in school district finance when he joined Manatee County Schools in 2005-06.

“You had smart people who had accounting backgrounds with little budget experience,” Robinson said. “It was the perfect storm. It was a combination of limited communication software issues and changes (in the district).”

Drake only had two people helping him with the budget, employees who only focused part-time on the budget and spent time on other projects like cash management.

2011-12 also saw a $24 million drop in federal government funding for the school board,

Without the federal funding the district got in 2010-11, Davis said the district would have had a deficit that year as well.

“This wasn’t a one-year event,” Robinson said. “Federal funding disguised what was happening.”

Another revelation from the meeting came when Karen Carpenter, school board chairwoman, said the board was unaware McGonegal had asked Drake to resign in January 2012 before Navigant’s report said so.

 

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