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FAMU finances still full of holes

An audit shows many errors in the school's budgetary dealings, including issues with payroll.

By SHANNON COLAVECCHIO-VAN SICKLER
Published March 17, 2007


TALLAHASSEE - When a state auditor last year found multiple problems with Florida A&M University's finances for the 2004-05 budget year, interim President Castell Bryant stressed that she wasn't appointed until midway through that year. It would take time, Bryant said, to fix such a deep-rooted financial mess.

Apparently, it takes a lot of time.

A preliminary audit of the budget year ending June 2006 - about 18 months after FAMU trustees chose Bryant to steer her alma mater right - found a laundry list of holes and errors in the financial operations of Florida's only historically black public university.

It is the latest in a series of recent blows to FAMU. Administrators this week got a stern warning from lawmakers, who indicated they would curtail FAMU's budget if that's what it takes to clean up the long-running problems.

And it comes as Bryant, interim president since January 2005, prepares to turn over FAMU to James H. Ammons, the former FAMU provost who will take over the presidency this summer.

Chief among the audit's 35 findings were payroll and salary documentation problems - including failure to pay employees on time, failure to give raises and properly perform annual evaluations, and failure to document employees' leave time and sabbaticals.

Payroll problems became public last month, when Bryant received over 600 requests for overdue paychecks from adjunct professors and full-time faculty teaching extra classes. Bryant said this week that all but seven requests have since been fulfilled.

The auditor also concluded that accounting records did not accurately reflect the budget approved by FAMU trustees, and the trustees and president didn't approve budget amendments.

FAMU didn't retain records to support $1.8-million in athletic department collections. And university property went missing, but was never reported.

Employee cell phone use was not properly monitored or documented, and logs of campus vehicle use weren't maintained in a timely fashion. There was often no evidence that a supervisor reviewed the use.

FAMU has 30 days to respond to the audit and explain what it is doing to correct the problems.

Bryant issued a statement Friday that her team will work "quickly and carefully" to prepare their response.

"This is a good process for both the university and the state," Bryant said. "It is now our responsibility to provide additional detail and explanation and propose how we will make any needed alterations in our systems."

The FAMU alumnus arrived about 25 months ago to multimillion-dollar budget deficits. The federal government said the university wasn't complying with financial aid regulations.

FAMU had to return a $1.5-million grant from the National Science Foundation because it couldn't account for the money. The NCAA found 200 violations, and the football team had to forfeit titles.

Bryant cut sports programs and scholarships, trimmed spending universitywide and fired more than three dozen employees, including the head football coach. She also fired eight nontenured professors from the nationally recognized business school.

In March 2006, FAMU trustees decided they were so happy with Bryant's performance, they gave her a $50,000 raise, to $300,000 a year. A few months earlier, they had given her a $35,000 bonus.

This week, during a meeting with a Senate education committee, Bryant said she never would have taken the job had she known just how bad FAMU's situation was.

"You can't right a 50-year-old ship in two years," she told them.

Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at 850 224-7263 or svansickler@sptimes.com