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August 31, 2003

School under fire from the surrounding community and state auditors

From: WJXX, FL - Aug 31, 2003

ST. AUGUSTINE, FL -- The Florida School for the Deaf and Blind is coming under fire from the surrounding community and state auditors.

Some neighbors concerned of expansion plans The Florida School for the Deaf and Blind needs to expand so it's turning to the surrounding neighborhood. The school has already bought homes in the area which will be demolished to make way for new dormitories. Now, the school wants zoning changes to allow them to build the dorms. Some neighbors are not happy.

"The problem that we have is that we don't know what their plans are," said April Alexander, neighbor. "Even after asking, they have not been forth coming. We don't know what to anticipate or what to expect."

The homeowners say they will fight zoning changes that allow anything but single family homes in their neighborhood.

State audit finds 13 infractions Through a news exchange with the St. Augustine Record, First Coast News has learned an audit for the school from 2001-2002 finds 13 infractions. All the infractions have to do with the school's business dealings and not with the school's educational practices.

The audit reports the school violated some state laws.

"It goes to the heart of the business practices of the school," said Margo Pope, Associate Editor of the St. Augustine Record.

Margo Pope has been busy dissecting the 13 problems listed in the audit. Two infractions are prominent. One is the audit claims the school deposited "approximately $1.7 million and $1.22 million, respectively, in accounts outside the state treasury." It is a violation of state law. The school says the finding is inaccurate.

In a letter to the Auditor General in November 2002, the school president Elmer Dillingham Jr. defended the institution. "..The Florida School for Deaf and Blind has complied with all applicable laws [and] administrative rules."

Number 5 on the list is another important finding. "Contrary to state law, the school hired a lobbyist to represent the school in legislative matters."

President Dillingham rebutted the finding. "The information presented does not accurately reflect the situation under which the lobbyist was hired...[and]...was economically expedient."

The article published in Sunday's St. Augustine Record details further infractions. Margo Pope stresses that the audit is about business only. It does not question the quality of education provided by the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind.

Pope quoted the Auditor's Office. "This is very serious. The issues are very significant."

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