Auditors cite Florida school district for shoddy record keeping, again

William Patrick | Florida Watchdog

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The people running Orange County Public Schools need to hit the books a little harder.

BARBARA M. JENKINS: Superintendent for Orange County Public Schools

State auditors found significant errors involving student hours as they relate to several school programs. Student hours are used to determine state funding through the Florida Education Finance Program.

State Auditor General David W. Martin said state accountants sampled a number of student records and found many instances of reporting errors, inaccurate or improperly prepared documents and records that were outright missing and could not be located.

Errors involved:

  • 75 percent of students sampled in English for Speakers of Other Languages, or ESOL, programs.
  • 44 of 110 students sampled in career development programs.
  • 26 percent of ESE students sampled, or students with disabilities.

The estimated cost to taxpayers was an overpayment to the district of $1.3 million.

The report also cited 14 separate findings of noncompliance relating to student transportation. The auditor recommended lowering the number of public school students the district says used student transportation last year by 3,414.

Orange County Public Schools Superintendent Barbara M. Jenkins said in a response letter that she “believes these deficiencies to be isolated instances.”

“OCPS does not believe that the problem is systemic, but rather individual student file errors or new staff who was not fully aware of the requirements for maintaining records and supporting documentation.”

Jenkins said follow up training and increased monitoring “will alleviate the issues.”

But these issues are anything but new.

A 2013 review of district record keeping for these programs was not available on the auditor general’s website. However, a 2012 audit showed an estimated overpayment of nearly $1.2 million.

That report found errors and misreporting relating to:

  • 39 percent of students in ESOL programs
  • 255 of 326 students in career development training
  • 24 percent of ESE students

Auditors found 1-in-5 students sampled had issues with their ridership classification or eligibility for state transportation funding. An overpayment amount was not given, but the report recommended revising downward the number of students reported to use school transportation by 2,604.

Jenkins’s 2012 response was identical to the most recent report.

“OCPS believes these deficiencies to be isolated instances,” she wrote at the time. “OCPS does not believe that the problem is systemic, but rather individual student file errors.”

Watchdog.org contacted the Florida Department of Education for comment and was told the overpayments could be recouped through adjusting future funding.

“Department staff calculates proposed audit adjustments and forwards this information in a letter to the superintendent of each of the audited school districts,” said Cheryl Etters, DOE press secretary, in an email.

Etters could not say for certain if the Orange County school district’s funding for ESOL, ESE, career training and student transportation will be amended.

Watchdog.org contacted the superintendent for comment but did not receive a response. Other attempts to get comment from media relations staff were not returned.

Contact William Patrick at wpatrick@watchdog.org

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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