State audit finds questionable spending by Marion County school district

(The Center Square) — A recent Marion County School District audit uncovered several issues, including millions of dollars in questionable costs.

The Florida Auditor General found that the district, despite state Board of Education rules, did not timely report information to the state Department of Education about a former employee who was dismissed and later convicted of an offense in July 2023.

According to state law, the agency must maintain a disqualification list identifying people not eligible for employment under Board of Education rules.

The audit found that the district had not signed an affidavit regarding the employee’s dismissal, did not issue a final order and did not add the former employee to the disqualification list.

In response to the inquiry, the district indicated that it was unaware that these procedures needed to be followed because the former employee was a custodian, not a certified teacher. However, in October 2023, the district filed the required affidavit and reported the employee to the disqualification list.

District records also failed to evidence that school capital outlay and debt service funds were used only for authorized purposes. These specific funds will be expended only on projects designated in a priority list approved by the district board.

The audit found that over $2.2 million was spent during fiscal 2022-2023 on projects not on the approved priority list, including HVAC upgrades at a middle school and electrical upgrades and new roofs at two other elementary schools.

In response, the district indicated that the costs were not on an amended priority list because of staff turnover and absences during the COVID-19 pandemic. The auditor general recommended that the district establish better procedures to ensure funds are spent on only those projects authorized by state law and the state education department.

The audit noted that the district could not provide evidence that contract management entities had selected subcontractors competitively according to state law requirements, therefore failing to show that funds had been expended most cost-effectively.

Furthermore, during fiscal 2022-23, the district had $29.4 million spread across three major construction projects. It was found that the district was not present at subcontractor bidding and relied solely on contract management entities to fulfill these processes. The auditor general recommended that future projects comply with state requirements before work commences.