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December 1, 2006

Audit hits errors at school for impaired

From: Florida Times-Union - Jacksonville,FL,USA - Dec 1, 2006

The issues were deemed relatively minor and most already have been fixed, the board says.

By J. TAYLOR RUSHING, Capital Bureau Chief

TALLAHASSEE - A state audit of the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind has found six problems at the St. Augustine school, including inadequate oversight of construction projects and documentation lapses by two of the seven trustees.

Officials at the 121-year-old school acknowledge the errors, but said Thursday they are minor and mostly have been corrected.

The operational audit by the state Auditor General's Office covered from July 1, 2005, to June 30.

The findings, along with the school's responses:

* The school was not properly administering and documenting construction projects, "including inadequate insurance coverage, inadequate documentation of contingency adjustments, and noncompetitive selection of vendors and subcontractors."

* School officials said they are making the necessary changes and that the appearance of noncompetitive bidding procedures was created by incorrect documentation.

* Two of the seven members of the school's board of trustees - Pamela Juba of Pensacola and Celida Grau of Hialeah - did not file statements of financial interests, which help guard against conflicts of interest.

* School officials say those are the responsibility of trustees, not the school, but they have implemented a reminder system. Both Juba and Grau filed their statements this summer, and Grau since has resigned from the board because of health concerns.

* Access to a state database was accidentally allowed for three ex-employees after their termination.
School officials say they are strengthening control over such access.

* Certification was missing or incomplete for certain employees who were only authorized to work on federally funded programs.
The school since has provided the paperwork.

* Improper procedures allowed the school's Student Bank to give cash advances to school employees for work-related expenses without adequate safeguards.
The school since has implemented a prepaid debit card system to solve the problem.

* Landscaping costs totalling $102,000 were improperly paid from state funds instead of the school's own operating budget.

School officials said they were unaware of the prohibition and are restoring the funds.

With an annual budget of $30 million, the School for the Deaf and the Blind is considered Florida's primary institution for students with vision or hearing disabilities from preschool to the post-secondary level.In a Nov. 13 letter to the state, school President Elmer Dillingham Jr. explained the school's side of the audit's findings and outlined the steps being taken to fix the glitches. In an interview Thursday, board Chair Mary Jane Dillon of St. Augustine added that the school is mostly pleased with the audit.

"We expect when the audit team comes on campus, they're going to find things," Dillon said. "We're doing our due diligence as best we can and I think, overall, even the auditors were pleased with how we're handling things."

Dillon was backed up by state Rep. Bill Proctor, R-St. Augustine, a former 18-year trustee at the school and a former state Board of Education member.

"I've kept audits of lots of other schools for comparative sake and I could show you some real horror stories," said Proctor, who also chaired the school's board of trustees for 12 years. "This one is just minimal. These are things that have to be corrected, but there's no misplaced property, no misappropriation of funds or anything of that nature.", (850) 224-7515, ext. 11

© 2006 The Florida Times-Union.