No extensive waste found by schools auditBy LOGAN D. MABE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 18, 2002
TAMPA -- Independent auditors didn't find the $100-million that a former administrator claimed was unwisely spent by Hillsborough school officials over a dozen years. But they did find plenty of ways the district could beef up its business practices.
The 121-page audit came in response to former administrator Doug Erwin's claim that the district was guilty of $100-million in "wasteful and unwise spending."
"The results of our evaluation are mixed," auditors with Ernst & Young wrote in their report, which was made public Friday. "While E&Y found instances where management practices were deficient or required reinforcement, and in some cases, whole practices or systems need to be overhauled, nothing came to our attention except for the comments of (Erwin) that lead us to believe that hundreds of millions of dollars were misappropriated or unwisely spent."
The audit criticized the school district's aggressive efforts to save money when building schools. The district aims to build schools at 85 to 89 percent of the amount the state says a school should cost. As a result, the district gets extra money from the state for being thrifty.
The auditors described the building strategy as "overly aggressive" and said it contributes to poor construction quality.
Erwin took his concerns public in the fall of 2001, saying that his complaints to his superiors had been ignored.
The auditors said they found evidence to support some of the allegations. But in other instances, problems in construction, maintenance and minority business participation had been remedied.
"I was gratified that they found the $100-million issue was unfounded," said Superintendent Earl Lennard. "I certainly will be interested in looking at all the other issues and their recommendations where they say we can do things better."
Erwin said he felt vindicated by the audit.
"It appears as if everything I talked about they found a problem with," said Erwin, who cooperated with auditors. "I have not looked at it in any depth, but I am impressed that everything I saw was a problem, they seem to be saying, 'Yes, it is a problem.' As far as the $100-million, that was sort of an afterthought. And for some reason that has become a big issue."
The auditors concluded that school officials have opportunities to make changes in procedures and policies that should lead to cost savings, better efficiency and greater accountability in construction, maintenance and operations.
Among the areas in need of reform:
Record keeping and document storage could be improved. The auditors recommended keeping better track of information about vendors, construction contracts, maintenance purchase orders, and architectural drawings and technical specifications.
Training for custodians and maintenance personnel in heat and air-conditioning operations: "When a building is properly designed, constructed, operated and maintained, mold growth such as that found in Hillsborough County Schools will not occur," the auditors wrote.
Building maintenance: "Based on the volume of maintenance requests attributable to water intrusion and air conditioning failures, (Ernst & Young) recommends implementation of a robust preventative maintenance program for these building systems," the report said.
Jim Hamilton, assistant superintendent for operations, said a private sector task force will address these and other issues.
"One of the reasons we engaged the firm was to provide us with that insight," Hamilton said. "There's nothing we do that can't benefit from scrupulous review and improvement."
-- Logan D. Mabe can be reached at 269-5304 or at email@example.com.
© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-8111