School Board Chair Denies Duval Mismanaged Money As Lawmakers Push For State Audit

Aug 3, 2017

Credit jridgewayphotography / Flickr

School Board Chair Paula Wright is disputing accusations of mismanagement, as state Rep. Jason Fischer, R-Jacksonville, is pushing for a state audit of the Duval School District's finances.

Duval Schools spent more than $20 million over budget last year.


At Tuesday’s school board meeting, Wright addressed Fischer’s call for a state audit, which she said she learned about from a news reporter.

“What’s not acceptable is the fact that Representative Fischer, a former School Board member, did not ask a question of this board, never expressed a concern he had about what he heard or read, nor did he even provide or copy the board on his letter to the state,” she said.

Fischer didn’t contact Wright beforehand, though he did notify board member Scott Shine, and he said Shine encouraged him to involve the state auditor. Shine said in a phone call he told Fischer he’s OK with the audit but didn’t encourage it.

Either way, Wright denies money  is missing or has been mismanaged, but rather programs simply cost more than expected. The board agreed to a third-party review of its finances at a July workshop.

“This board will take every measure to know which programs or initiatives required additional funding,” Wright said Tuesday night.

Fischer said Wright is potentially misleading the public.

"There's a prejudgment that there is no mismanagement even though they have not done an audit," he said.

He added in a letter he sent the board Thursday, there hasn’t been a formal vote on the matter.

District lawyer Karen Chastain said a vote will happen after details are hammered between the board chair and district auditor regarding the scope of the audit. A board workshop is set for Tuesday to discuss the financial review.

“What I see is a proactive action to review historically and decide procedurally...what best practices would be going forward,” Chastain said at the School Board meeting.

Fischer, a former Duval School Board member himself, said he hopes the district follows through with its audit but is still pushing for the state to step in too.  

“Maybe the independent state audit will reveal that the district was facing some currently undetectable catastrophe,” Fischer said. “But it could also reveal serious financial mismanagement.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, board member Becki Couch pointed out the state requires districts to set aside a 3 percent emergency reserve, and the district sets aside 5 percent. And although the district used some money in that fund last year, the amount didn’t dip below 3 percent.

“It’s not an over expenditure,” Couch said. “It would be going into a reserve that we’ve strategically placed aside.”

Fischer sees it a bit differently.

“Back when I was on the School Board we set the reserve fund or ‘rainy day’ fund higher than 3 percent so we had money to respond to emergency or catastrophe,” Fischer said.

Fischer isn’t the only legislator requesting an audit of Duval Schools’ finances. Rep. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, also requested one in a letter to the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee last week.

Photo: "Checkbook" used under Creative Commons.

Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at lkilbride@wjct.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.