State Declines Duval School District Audit As Internal Financial Review Proceeds

Aug 8, 2017

Florida’s Legislative Auditing Committee Chair, Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Melbourne, is declining to order an operational audit of the Duval County School District. As she points out in a letter late last month, the state just did one during the 2015-2016 school year.

It was Mayfield’s response after Rep. Jason Fischer, R-Jacksonville, a former Duval School Board member.  Two other lawmakers have also requested the state audit.

The district went about $21 million dollars over budget last year, which included $11 million board members had expected to roll over from the previous year and spending about $10 million more than planned.

The School Board on Tuesday directed the district's internal auditor to start her own financial analysis.  

“(She’ll determine) which programs we had budgeted for $10, but cost $12 or $13, and then, ‘Why was there additional cost?’ and, ‘How soon can the board know in advance?’” School Board Chair Paula Wright said.

Wright said depending on the outcome, an even deeper look from an external auditor may be necessary if board members decide to go that route.

School Board member Ashley Smith Juarez said if the board gets all its questions answered with an internal audit she wouldn’t be interested in spending money on an external review.

Last month board members agreed to the deeper look into finances. Since then, internal auditor Michelle Begley has looked into how Hillsborough’s school district went about an external audit of its finances, which ended up being a 14-month, three phase process. Begley also presented to the board how the district went about selecting a firm for its curriculum audit.

Rep. Fischer had been concerned about Wright’s saying publicly the board had unanimously voted on a forensic audit, when a formal vote hasn’t taken place, resulting in his follow-up letter to Mayfield last week.

The board determined Tuesday a forensic audit isn’t the right type of audit, as those are typically used as evidence in court. The board will instead pursue a financial review meant to determine where extra money was spent and how to prevent it in the future.

Duval Superintendent Patricia Willis said she’s taking proactive measures already.

“We had conversations with our finance department … looking at what financial procedures we can put in place for the 2017-2018 school year so that we could, as much as possible, not have the kind of errors that we may have seen,” Willis said.

She said changes include keeping department budgets in a centralized system, instead of individual spreadsheets that aren’t immediately plugged into the system.  

“Everyone now has access to see the budget in real time,” she said.

Auditing Committee Chair Mayfield said after Duval’s own audit is published, the possibility of a state audit could be revisited.

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

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