Auditors report progress at FAMU

The improvement is crucial to its efforts to remain accredited.

Published December 5, 2007

Just in time for a major decision on its accreditation, Florida A&M University got good news from state auditors.

A just-finished draft report from the Florida auditor general, covering the budget year that ended in June, concludes FAMU has made "significant improvement" in the way it handles its finances.

FAMU corrected five of the 13 problems outlined in the previous year's financial audit, and has "partially corrected" seven others, according to the draft, outlined by president James Ammons during a Tuesday meeting of FAMU's trustees.

Ted Sauerbeck of the Auditor General's Office said the final report will be released in coming weeks.

The draft's tone, noting FAMU's improvement efforts, is markedly different from recent years' audits, which noted in sometimes scathing language a host of deep-rooted financial mismanagement of millions of dollars.

For FAMU, the timing of the draft could not be better: Next week, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools will decide whether to remove FAMU from the six-month probation it handed down in June, after concluding the historically black university was in violation of 10 standards for financial management and leadership.

FAMU has sent the draft audit to association officials, as proof administrators are making necessary improvements.

"We believe through our efforts we have improved the university's financial status," said Ammons, whose first five months as president have been consumed with the probation. "We have done everything that we could possibly do to address their concerns and rebuild the fiscal integrity of FAMU."

The association's Commission on Colleges could extend the probation for another six months or revoke FAMU's accreditation altogether. Losing that seal of approval would be devastating to FAMU, because its students would no longer qualify for federal financial aid and the value of a FAMU degree would plummet.

"The value of every institution's degree floats on the market of perceived value," said association vice president and chief of staff Tom Benberg. "The loss of accreditation generally hurts that."

The state's financial audit for the budget year ending June 2006 was released in September. It found 13 problems, including incomplete bank records, poor controls over sensitive data, and financial statements that were off by millions of dollars.

The latest audit found seven areas of concern, but concludes FAMU has fixed or is on its way to fixing 12 of the previous audit's findings.

Among the problems outlined in the latest audit, which covers the period when Castell Bryant served as interim president: inaccurate financial reporting, some of it due to the PeopleSoft system that has plagued many universities; and incorrectly recorded deposits and unrecorded transactions worth nearly $1-million.

For example, there were 104 incorrectly recorded deposits totaling $144,931 and 81 unrecorded bank transactions in the student aid account worth $746,087.

The report notes that FAMU officials have under Ammons hired a controller and consultants with PeopleSoft experience.

Administrators also worked with auditors to reconcile some bank and other financial statements.

In several cases, auditors concluded they were "able to satisfy ourselves that amounts reported on the financial statements were materially correct."

Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at svansickler@sptimes.com or 813 226-3403.