Education

School Board says no to outside investigator for unaccounted-for money

The Monroe County School Board will not, at least for now, hire a forensic investigator to probe where unaccounted-for money at Key West's Horace O'Bryant School went.

Tuesday, the board voted 3-2, with Vice Chairman John Dick and Ron Martin and Ed Davidson in the majority, to not hire Miami-based Richard Fechter. That reverses a Dec. 15 vote when the board unanimously decided to hire him to look into where the money, more than $20,000 from HOB's day-care program, went.

Instead, the board decided Tuesday to wait on a School District in-house review.

The one-hour meeting included pointed questions from board members to district officials and back-and-forth discussion over costs and capabilities, as well as plenty of references to the district's last finance scandal.

In 2009, then-Superintendent Randy Acevedo was removed from office by the governor and convicted of three counts of official misconduct involving his then-wife Monique's theft of nearly half a million dollars from the district when she was head of adult education. She got eight years in prison and is in the latter part of her sentence.

"I'm still mad as hell, but I don't want to squander a bunch of resources," Davidson said. "I think it's premature; our staff is already well along."

Other board members feel the district investigating itself is a conflict. "How do we get around that inherent conflict of interest?" Bobby Highsmith asked.

Board Chairman Andy Griffiths agreed. "The conflict of interest is so obvious that it screams to me. I don't think we can do it in-house."

Dick and Martin disagreed.

Martin expressed "utmost confidence" in Superintendent Mark Porter and the district's finance team while Dick said the board should give the administration "a chance to show what it can do."

"Spending another $30,000 is a waste of taxpayers' money," Dick said, referring to Fechter's proposed contract. "Let's stay inside and see if it'll work."

"I understand the board's position. I think it's a mistake," Fechter said.

Porter said the district is 95 percent complete with its accounting review of HOB's day-care, which has been done on a student-by-student basis. He did not get into specifics but said the in-house review would take no more than a month.

"We clearly can reach some conclusive findings in this effort," Porter said.

However, he did tell the board that sloppy accounting procedures were in place.

HOB Principal Mike Henriquez has said he alerted the district to the missing day-care money in November 2014. Families paid into it with cash or checks.

The district's contracted accounting firm, King & Walker, issued a report in May finding that from July 2014 to March 2015, the School District had receipts for the program totaling $62,298. Actual deposits added up to $41,559, a difference of $20,739.

Chief Monroe County Assistant State Attorney Manny Madruga said Tuesday that his office is still investigating.

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