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October 10, 2003

Agencies continue to review state audit of FSDB

From: St. Augustine Record, FL - Oct 10, 2003

Associate Editor

Almost 10 months after its official release, a program audit of The Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind is moving through the channels of state government agencies.

State Reps. Don Davis, R-Jacksonville, and Doug Wiles, D-St. Augustine, are confident the process is moving ahead after recent meetings with the Auditor General's office and the staff director of the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee.

The Auditor General issued 13 findings against the school in an audit released last December, covering July 1, 2000, to Dec. 31, 2001, and select transactions through Aug. 31, 2002.

The state residential school is located in North City.

Davis' district includes the school and Wiles' did before reapportionment.

This audit is not designed to look at academic programs, according to the Auditor General's office. The findings criticized the school's business practices. Since then, the school had its own internal auditor review and many issues have been cleared up, said Mary Jane Dillon, chairwoman for the board of trustees.

Spokeswomen for two key state agencies, the governor's office and the Department of Education, said the status of the Department of Education review is unknown.

Frances Marine, spokeswoman for the Department of Education, was checking on that this week. Last week she said the department's inspector general did not have a review under way.

Also, Terry Shoffstall, staff director of the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee, said Thursday that the committee is not reviewing the audit.

"I am assisting Rep. Wiles and Rep. Davis on some issues concerning the FSDB but the Auditing Committee has not scheduled a meeting concerning this issue," he said. "I have advised my incoming chairman, Rep. (Ray) Samson that I am working on the issue. But we are not scheduling a committee meeting on it."

Samson is a Fort Walton Beach Republican. He takes over as committee chairman in November.

Davis and Wiles held meetings last week in Tallahassee with Joe Williams, audit manager for the Auditor General's office, Shoffstall and Rip Colvin, a legislative analyst.

Both legislators said they were encouraged and felt the review process is on track.

"I'm more confident about it (a review) today than I was before," Davis said.

The goal is to ensure that problems don't happen again, he said.

Wiles said, "We've got the attention of the (auditing) committee."

However, Wiles said that because of changes on the auditing committee and other matters before the committee, its review probably won't happen in the next few weeks.

"There are really two issues," Wiles said. "We need to clear up the audit, and secondly we need to be sure there is oversight and accountability and that we create policies and rules to prevent these problems from happening in the future."

What form those remedies will take is not clear at this time. However, Davis and Wiles said they intend to continue working and meeting with state officials on it prior to the 2004 legislative session next spring.

The next audit of the school is set for early next year, according to Williams in the Auditor General's office.

Areas, however, where the school and the state auditors disagree over the board's authority are being considered for an Attorney General's opinion.

Dillon said Friday that the school's attorney, Tracy Upchurch of St. Augustine, is reviewing statutes related to the school to determine the next step.

"We are continuing to work to ensure that we ask the precise questions that are responsive to the issues," she said. "Mr. Upchurch's review of statutes is to ensure that the inquiry is comprehensive."

© Copyright 2002 The St. Augustine Record and Morris Digital Works .