News Section: Schools and Education
Schaich: New Budget Should Not be Approved
BRADENTON – Linda Schaich has earned a high degree of credibility when it comes to the Manatee School District's budget. The education activist has put her accounting experience to good work over the last several years, finding errors and omissions in the numbers and challenging district officials at every turn. After being the first to raise flags about the recently revealed shortfall, Schaich spent the weekend poring over the latest proposal for the 2012/13 school year and she has concerns.
“I believe that limiting the forensic auditors to the additional hiring of teachers would be a travesty of justice, as it is quite probable that the error is elsewhere,” said Schaich in an email. She also said that the alleged cause that outgoing superintendent Tim McGonegal had pinned the $8 million shortfall on – 58 teachers added to combat the classroom size amendment – may have been a “diversionary tactic.”
“The class size amendment has been blamed for everything except the weather pattern,” said Schaich. “I believe that this is just a diversionary tactic to steer the forensic auditors away from the real problem.”
It didn't sit well with Schaich that McGonegal sat on the information since at least the 1st of August, as he admits, and possibly much longer. Not only did McGonegal's omissions deny the public a chance to understand the true state of the district and cast a more informed vote in the August 14 school board elections – Schaich lost a challenge to incumbent Bob Gause – but it also provided a lot of time for people complicit in the debacle to alter or destroy records, while concocting an explanation before records could be ordered to be locked down, as they were last week when McGonegal resigned.
“He withheld this information from the board, thereby opening himself up for malfeasance,” said Schaich, asking why an administrator in that position would knowingly do that unless he needed more time to cover something up.
Schaich sent a list of questions to the board and members of the district's finance team, asking about specific problems within the budgets of each department. She also remains troubled by last year's budget and the way it was amended, noting that board members are given only a report that shows the current month with the prior month, rather than a comparison of current actuals with the original report. Schaich said that each month, she has been comparing the monthly actuals with the original budget as presented, which she says shows that instructional costs has a deficit of $15 million not 8.
Schaich compared her spreadsheets of the first 2012/13 budget done by line item with the amended budget the district just published. She says she was able to balance the original 2012/13 budget with the district's general ledger line items, but when she input the amended budget in the same manner, the new budget seemed to be $18.5 million short from the general fund total.
“Last year’s budget was materially overstated and had so many errors as to be totally unusable,” said Schaich. “A quick look at the departments would have given an indication that something was wrong, but still three board members approved this flawed budget without questioning. A few months later, it was revealed by outsiders that the benefits were wrong. They discovered that the district had doubled social security benefits. This budget ended up being padded for around $10 million. Since the prior year had a deficit of another $8 million, it makes you wonder if this was done on purpose to make up the money shortage.”
At the time, the mistake was blamed on a “benefits calculator” error, though there was no comprehensive investigation to determine whether this was in fact the cause.
“In view of the fact that last year’s budget was materially incorrect, yet was approved by the board and never corrected, I would think that they would be hesitant to approve another budget which appears to have problems,” said Schaich. “This new final budget should not be approved at this time.”
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