News Column

Internal Manatee County school audit shows 'outdated IT'

February 20, 2014

By Erica Earl, The Bradenton Herald



Feb. 20--MANATEE -- The Manatee County School District Audit Committee met Wednesday to review an audit of the district information technology, which called department's methods "outdated and inflexible."

Cyndy Loomis, chief executive officer of Information Systems of Florida said district organization needs to improve.

"It is not typical business software that supports a school district," Loomis said. "IT has been neglected for quite some time."

The audit showed payroll has been done manually. The substitute process is also done manually.

"Manually, as in getting a time card punched," said internal auditor Byron Shinn of the Bradenton-based CPA firm Shinn & Co.

The comment elicited laughter, but also a shared look of concern among audit committee members.

The school district just added the position new chief in

formation officer last year.

Michael Boyer, district chief financial officer, said a lack of positions in the past, combined with cutting positions last year, contributed to the struggle in the IT department.

"We don't have knowledge of what to do or what we need to do," Boyer said. "It is a point of a lot of pain for the district, especially finance."

The audit also addressed contract provisions for IT professionals in the district. Loomis said the district needs to provide more flexibility than the current one-year contracts.

"When we added 85 teachers last year, we also had several hundred transfers. This wreaked havoc for IT and HR," Boyer said. "There was a whole culture of movement between schools going on throughout the whole year."

Boyer said while some transfers were administrative decisions, most were initiated by the teachers.

Another finding showed the district lacks automated programs for reports. Boyer said a cost report can take almost eight weeks to complete without a preset program or template.

Even though the district has turned the payroll and human resources software Position Control back on as suggested by last year's forensic audit report, Loomis said the best move may be to leave it for something new altogether.

"When it comes to Position Control, it is cumbersome to use," Loomis said. "It's not modern technology basically is the best way to say it."

The audit committee was tasked with a number of action items to bring back to the school board, including:

--The development of a three- to five-year IT plan.

--A business process for district documentation, and even hiring additional staff or bringing in external support to complete it.

--Assessments before the district does anything on a financial software system.

Shinn said the district lacks the proper "people power" to improve its technology.

"We have people in a horse and buggy, and we want to give them a fast Ferrari, but can't do that," Shinn said.

Improving IT would require district spending.

The audit committee also discussed the comprehensive annual financial report. The CAFR, is not required by the state, but the committee agreed it would be a misstep for interest rates and bond ratings to leave it out.

As audit committee member James Gentile put it: "The damage has already been done."

"This tells us ratings on bonds and that we meet other requirements," Gentile said. "The numbers reported, even a negative fund balance, are reported as needed."

Karen Callington from the Auditor General's office in Tampa attended the meeting to clarify the purpose of the report, which showed a $46.9 million district deficit as of June 30.

The figure is calculated by taking the general fund and subtracting required carryover, compensated absences and early retirement payable.

"Its significance is that it provides long-term perspective for the school board," Callington said. "The deficit balance indicates what the district is going to have to fund in the future with general fund money."

Callington said the audit was "interesting," with a new administration in Manatee County.

"We started with different governance and a turnover in staff, and a lot of people were in new positions," Callington said. "It was challenging for us, but they dug right in and found what we needed and did what they needed to do to find the information."

Joseph Blitzko, chairman of the audit committee, said he is looking forward to taking committee opinions of the findings to the school board.

"That is why we started the audit committee, to give input and present in front of management and auditors," Blitzko said.

The audit committee is expected to present its audit findings at the school board meeting March 11.

Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.

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(c)2014 The Bradenton Herald (Bradenton, Fla.)

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Source: Bradenton Herald (FL)


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