District corrected, at least partially, three findings from last year

Gulf District Schools received a clean audit for the fiscal year 2016-2017, the report issued by the State of Florida Auditor General indicated upon its public release last week.

The audit found no material weaknesses or significant deficiencies and noted the district had taken corrective action on a series of findings from the prior year’s audit.

“I know it doesn’t happen every day,” Superintendent of Schools Jim Norton said of the deficiency-free, weakness-free audit.

Last year, Auditor General dinged the district on several issues.

The district, the audit noted, had overpaid a retiring administrative employee accrued sick leave, paying the leave payout at the salary level upon retirement, not that at the time the leave was accrued.

The retired employee paid the money back.

The auditor also noted that the district did not always ensure purchases within the Child Nutrition Cluster were made based on School Board-approved bids and contracts or ensured that vendor billings matched with bid and contract terms.

That, the auditor detailed, resulted in questioned costs of over $3,600.

This year, the audit deemed the district to have “partially corrected” the issue, taking corrective action moving forward but providing no “final determination with regard to the questioned costs.”

The most expensive issue on last year’s audit pertained to the Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program offered under state legislation.

According to the audit, Due to a series of miscues and misinterpretations regarding eligibility, the district “disbursed awards totaling $198,150 to 24 teachers who did not qualify … and $33,025 in non-Program scholarship funds to 4 other teachers without specific legal authority.”

The issue roiled teacher ranks when teachers who had not even applied suddenly received scholarship checks while others did not and the overwhelming number of scholarships were awarded to teachers at one school.

The district ultimately had to reimburse the state the nearly $200,000 and in turn requested by lettere that employees return the money.

Some teachers did return the money in full and others entered into payment plans.

However, to date, roughly a dozen teachers awarded the scholarships have never returned the money to the district.

In last year’s audit, the Auditor General recommended the district take corrective action by adopting the state-mandated process for scholarship application and awards.

For Gulf District Schools, that meant leaving the applications to the teachers and adhering to the requirement, the most controversial in the legislation, of proof of an ACT college-entrance exam score in the top 20 percent nationwide in the year exam is taken.

In the coming weeks, 11 district teachers will receive a bonus in the neighborhood of $7,500 under the scholarship program.

The other action recommended by the auditors was for the district to request the money back from those teachers who had not return the awards given due to the district’s errors.

The district followed through with its second round of demand letters, but to date roughly half the orginal recipients, representing some $120,000 in school district funds, have not paid the money back.

Superintendent of Schools Jim Norton has said for months the district was putting the imbrogolio behind it.