tampabay.com

FAMU gets vote of financial confidence

Engineering college oversight will remain as is - for now.

By SHANNON COLAVECCHIO-VAN SICKLER
Published April 12, 2007


TALLAHASSEE - As Florida A&M University is expected to deliver its response today to a blistering state audit, the school notched a significant win Wednesday when it received legislative support for its financial oversight of the engineering college it shares with Florida State University.

By an overwhelming vote, the Senate removed from its proposed 2007-08 budget a provision that would have transferred financial oversight of the $10.4-million joint college to FSU from FAMU, the state's only historically black public university.

A few hours after the Senate vote, the House, at the urging of Rep. Curtis Richardson, D-Tallahassee, did the same.

The actions follow intense negotiations this week between legislative black caucus members and Sen. Evelyn Lynn, chair of the higher education appropriations committee that first proposed taking away FAMU's budget oversight of the college.

Lynn's committee was reacting to a recent operations audit of FAMU, which documented millions in questionable expenses, missing receipts and financial records, and other money-handling problems. The audit, covering the budget year ending June 2006, was the latest example of budget and leadership problems that have plagued FAMU for years.

But FAMU supporters such as Sen. Al Lawson, who conceded the school's finances were an embarrassing mess, decried the proposal. He said it was unfair to make such a drastic change before incoming president James Ammons takes over this summer.

On Monday night, Lynn, R-Ormond Beach, met with the black caucus and negotiated a number of conditions FAMU will have to meet over the next year to keep budget control over the college.

Under an amendment from Lynn that senators passed Wednesday, FAMU will undergo an intense forensic audit, provide quarterly progress reports and an annual report on its finances and track recruiting and retention with yearly reports.

If FAMU does not show improvements by the start of the 2008 session, the board that oversees Florida's public universities would recommend "any necessary fiscal emergency actions" to "protect the reputation of the university and students."

Meanwhile, a draft of FAMU's 40-page response to the state audit shows that it concurs with 24 of the auditor general's 35 preliminary recommendations. But university officials also offer detailed and sometimes highly technical explanations to many findings.

"I think the responses will put many of the auditor general's concerns to rest," Challis Lowe, chairwoman of the FAMU board of trustees, said in an e-mail. "The responses more accurately reflect the progress that has been made in addressing some of our accounting and control weaknesses than the preliminary audit findings reflected."

One finding involved $1.8-million in missing athletic department ticket receipts. While FAMU's response acknowledges that ticket receipts were "inadvertently discarded," records for the sales in question were still available for review from TicketMaster, which provides and distributes all tickets at the FAMU ticket office, and through daily deposit records at the FAMU cashier office.

In response, FAMU says it has developed and distributed a "comprehensive cash collections and control manual." It also says the athletic department is seeking to buy scanning equipment "to provide a more permanent and accurate file for documents of this nature."

The Auditor General's Office will consider FAMU's response to the audit before issuing a final report in the coming weeks.