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Down here in the school district wing of The State Mengal, er, Mental, sometimes also referred to on these pages as The Asteroid Belt, that would also be The Florida Keys, Rick Boettger, of Key West, replied to yesteday’s conspiracy and yellow journalism, howls school board member John Dick of The Key West Citizen Editorial Board post:
Excellent journalism, Sloan. Thank you.
By SEAN KINNEY
Posted – Wednesday, March 13, 2013 11:30 AM EDT
As Monroe County School District administrators weigh their response to a Florida Auditor General’s Office preliminary financial and operational audit, it appears at least one critical finding may be reversed.
State auditors, in a draft released Feb. 20, cited the district for defaulting on a $36 million construction loan to rebuild Horace O’Bryant Middle School in Key West.
The audit finding reads: “The district’s required annual debt payment of $2,117,647, due on Dec. 1, 2011, was made on Aug. 24, 2012, or 267 days late.”
But, in what Superintendent Mark Porter described as “great news,” Fort Lauderdale-based U.S. Bank’s Corporate Trust Services Vice President Peter Fowler notified the district on March 4 that the problem was with bond documents and payment schedules.
“Because the funds were on hand at the School District and remitted upon receipt of invoicing for the funding dates,” Fowler wrote to Director of Finance Ken Gentile, “the School Board is in compliance with the payment terms of the tax certificate and no technical event of default occurred.”
The most recent audit, covering the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2012, continues a four-year trend of numerous repeat findings, with the most recent listing one “significant deficiency,” 12 “additional matters” and five “federal awards findings.”
The district escaped the state audit’s most serious finding, referred to as “material weakness.”
The significant deficiency reported by state auditors was found in “financial reporting procedures (that) could be improved to ensure that transactions and note disclosures are properly reported.” That’s viewed as a wholesale criticism of the district’s bookkeeping.
The School Board, meeting in Key West after press time Tuesday, was scheduled to discuss Gentile’s audit response, which outlines corrective action to state regulators who will consider the district’s explanations before finalizing their audit.
Relative to the HOB finding, Gentile notes the district “partially disagree[s]” citing the loan document errors. “The error [was] caught internally as part of year-end reconcilement and the bank was notified. The trustee bank confirmed that there was not technical default.”
Anyone who swallows any of this spin-doctoring should not be allowed to vote in any school board race, forever. There is no way the finance department did not know when the HOB loan was due. Again, during the recent school board workshop, Gentile told the school board that money was tight back then, there were a lot of obligations. Translated, a choice was made not to pay the HOB loan, but to pay other obligations. An insane choice, because everyone knew that is a stimulus package loan, it is basically interest free, but it the loan is defaulted, or if the school is not completed on time, the interest has to be paid as a penalty. The interest is about $20,000,000. No way the school district can pay that penalty. Insane, you don’t pay that loan on time.
In another audit finding, the district was cited for not keeping up with board meeting minutes in violation of Florida’s open government Sunshine Law. Gentile agrees with the audit finding and responds: “Due to a change in staffing and reorganization this reporting lapsed during the year. Administrative staffing was added and minutes are up to date.”
School Board Chairman Andy Griffiths noted that 10 of the audit findings are suggestions on how to “enhance existing controls,” rather than indictments of current controls.
He took to social media site Facebook on Sunday to address the HOB finding specifically and the audit in general.
“As of today, it’s fixed,” he said of the HOB issue. “That’s why this audit is called preliminary. Now, I agree the preliminary audit is not good, but there were no material weaknesses, one significant and rest additional.”
For Gentile’s complete audit response, check out www.keysschools.com.
What you should have on the school board are people who are violently allergic to spin-doctoring, white-washing. Capt. Ed Davidson is pretty darn close to that.
I found myself wondering what I would answer, if a honcho from the Board of Education called me to ask who I would recommend for an emergency board to run the school district after a state takeover.
I would say:
STEVE PRIBRAMSKY, an accountant and financial planner, who served one term on the school board, and who, alone, had the audacity to express concern about the HOB stimulus package loan – What if something goes wrong? What happens to us then? Steve was shouted down, essentially, told there was nothing to worry about, nothing could go wrong.
LARRY MURRAY, who ran for the school board last year, after serving a term on the school board’s Audit & Finance Committee, and who THEN continued to dog the school board and the superintendent about school district finances and operating and managing procedures.
MARGARET ROMERO, who made her mark in corporate America, then retired and came home to Key West, where she became a diligent citizen watchdog, attending Key West city commission and other city government meetings, county commission meetings, and school board meetings, and speaking pointedly and forcefully at such meetings, including the last school board meeting, where she scolded the school board for complaining about the way the newspapers and blogs were treating the school district.
KATHY REITZEL, former head of the school district finance department, who bravely blew the whistle on the Acevedos in a known retaliatory work environment, and became the State Attorney’s star witness, whose testimony got both Acevedos indicted and convicted, but for whose testimony, Randy Acevedo might still be superintendent of schools. Then, she was fired, for not blowing the whistle sooner. It would boost rank and file and teacher morale to see Kathy back in the school district; it would encourage whistleblowing, and Kathy would not have to be trained.
And yes, the emergency board members should be paid a wage commensurate with the responsibility of the job and the risk assumed in a community where it is common knowledge that you rock the boat at your own risk.
The “Vatican” part of yesterday’s the legacy of Francis of Assisi, and other considerations new Pope Francis might wish to ponder greatly expanded at the Mystics, Madmen & Muses open Facebook group, which should be reachable at this link provided by a member of that group, whom I have known since 1990: