FORT MYERS, Fla. -- An audit from the Florida Auditor General questions how the Lee County School District spent tax payer money and whether administration is doing enough to keep students safe.
The report states 15 items the agency believes needs improvement. However, Lee County School District officials disagree with several of those findings. Read the full audit here.
Superintendent Greg Adkins finds the timing of the audit's release suspicious. In the upcoming election, voters will head to polls to vote on a half cent sales tax increase referendum the school district is hoping will help pay for new schools and added security. "In the last 16 years, I've never seen an audit like this," Adkins said. "Three anonymous phone calls were made to the auditors office, and then this thing started to go south."
The school district disputes several findings in the audit. They issued the following statement:
"The School District of Lee County strongly disputes many of the findings in a just released Operational Audit released by the Florida Auditor General. The report is focused on District operations during the 2016-2017 school year.
One finding questions how the District spends its impact fee dollars. Lee County, like others in the state including but not limited to Miami-Dade, Broward and Hillsborough Counties, uses revenue collected from impact fees to pay for debt on school construction. “Our expenditures pass the rational nexus test,” says Chief Financial Officer Greg Blurton. “We have spent impact fee dollars only for authorized purposes that are allowed under county ordinance, state law and case law.”
Audit finding #2 incorrectly implies the District spent $2.7 million in ad valorem taxes to simply clean and maintain school grounds. In fact, this money was spent on things like mold remediation, removal of hazardous materials, air quality and flood remediation at our schools. Those expenses meet the Safety to Life criteria and are permissible under Florida Statue 1011.17 (2) (g) which allows for the payment of costs directly related to meeting environmental regulations; and Florida Statute 468.64 which states removal and remediation of mold and mildew is “necessary in the interest of the public safety and welfare, to prevent damage to real and personal property…”
Audit finding #3 suggests that the District document the public purpose served for Internal Air Quality services and related payments. “The suggestion that we run tests when we have an indoor air quality expert right there telling us we need mold remediation is a waste of time and taxpayer dollars,” explains Superintendent Dr. Greg Adkins. “We take seriously our responsibility to provide safe and healthy educational facilities to students and staff.”
In addition to those findings, the District also takes exception to Finding #4: Monitoring of Construction Management Entity Pay Requests, Finding #5: Subcontractor Selection, and Finding #7: General Conditions Costs. In October of 2017, the District provided information to show a Certified Public Accountant reviewed contractor payments, subcontractor contracts and general costs. As a result, the Auditor General sent an email to the district agreeing to remove those findings; even so, they were not removed from the final audit.
There are findings in the audit the District agrees with and action has already been taken over the last 11 months to address the audit findings relative to Social Security numbers, purchasing cards and school volunteer background checks.
A copy of the Operational Audit and the District’s responses to the findings can be found here: https://www.leeschools.net/cms/One.aspx?portalId=676305&pageId=3606801 [leeschools.net]
In addition, at the end of August, the Florida Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability released the audit required by the state for the District to put the half-cent sales tax referendum on the November ballot.
It recognized the School District of Lee County as “economical, effective and efficient.” OPPAGA praised the District for having “unique internal control mechanisms and methods for monitoring performance.” The report also calls the District’s organizational structure “strong” and planned used of revenue raised by the sales tax as “in compliance with applicable state laws, rules and regulations.”
A copy of the OPPAGA audit is available for review on the School District website at https://www.leeschools.net/UserFiles/Servers/Server_676221/File/Final%20Report%20082718%20LCSD%20Perfermance%20Audit.pdf"