Evergreen releases final audit

By ALEXA MILAN

SANFORD — The final report of Florida-based consulting firm Evergreen Solutions’ audit of Lee County Schools reflects the same commendations and recommendations outlined in the draft report released a few weeks ago — 29 commendations of the district’s practices and 35 potential cost-saving recommendations. The final report, which along with the final county audit is available to download at http://www.leecountync.gov, was distributed to the Lee County Board of Education members during the board’s monthly meeting Tuesday.

County Manager John Crumpton said Evergreen President Linda Recio is set to present both audits to the Lee County Board of Commissioners during Monday’s board meeting.

“For us and for the schools, we spent a lot of time pulling that data together for Evergreen,” Crumpton said. “I think the results show we’re both doing a good job financially, but there’s always room for improvement. How we’re going to go forward is the next step.”

During Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting, Board of Education Chairman Shawn Williams requested that Recio also present the Lee County Schools audit to the board during its next monthly meeting in April. Lee County Schools Superintendent Jeff Moss said Wednesday he asked Crumpton how to go about inviting Recio to the meeting.

“I think if you’re going to make recommendations, it’s easy to make recommendations, but implementation is another piece,” Williams said. “I’d like to hear from her how she would implement some of the recommendations.”

According to the final report’s concluding cost and savings summary, 14 of the 35 recommendations outlined in the audit have fiscal implications. The report states implementing all of the audit’s recommendations would amount to a cumulative total five-year net savings of about $5.8 million.

Moss said that number would fluctuate depending on which recommendations the board determines are feasible.

For example, following the draft report’s release, Moss and Williams both expressed concerns about a recommendation for the Greenwood and Broadway elementary school libraries to become “joint-use” libraries, for both school and public use. They also had reservations about a recommendation to institute a 35-cent-per-meal lunch rate increase and a 30-cent-per-meal breakfast rate increase.

“For the bus routes, it says don’t (consolidate routes) if it would be a safety issue,” Moss said. “You start eliminating those things, and you start bringing down that savings number dramatically.”

Overall, Williams said he was pleased with the report and he felt it was supportive of education.

Among the commendations in the report are praise for finance department operations, overall transportation efficiency, facility maintenance, community outreach, employee evaluation, energy conservation efforts and a comprehensive strategic plan, which the report states “is among the best that Evergreen has seen with respect to setting very specific longitudinal targets and measuring results.”

The report also commends the 1:1 laptop program, stating that “introducing (students) to this technology is preparing them, in many cases, for more successful futures which demand a higher level of technological competence.”

But the report recommends establishing evaluation strategies for both the laptop program and the Rosetta Stone foreign language program to better measure the programs’ effectiveness.

Other recommendations in the report include maintaining “a ratio of student to instructional leaders at or near current levels” when considering further budget cuts, developing financial report summaries for the school board, commissioners and public; examining turnover data and developing strategies to improve faculty and staff retention; and consolidating bus routes where safety isn’t an issue.

The report also recommends reducing staffing or months of employment at the central office “in proportion to other cuts made throughout Lee County Schools.” According to the report, teacher salaries in 2010-2011 ranged from $32,560-$64,756, while raises for some central office administrators ranged from 4-21 percent.

The report states such raises give “the appearance that some staff are more worthy than others in the eyes of the Administration and the Board. Undoubtedly that was not the intent of the action, but failing to look at the big picture of all staff within LCS when such action is taken — especially in current economic times — offers that impression.”

Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Linda Shook, who was in the process of reading the final report Wednesday, said she felt the school system was effective in some ways but could use improvement in others.

“I think the report appears OK considering the very limited amount of access the auditors had to school employees,” Shook said. “I think if the auditors could have gone in and talked to principals or classroom teachers or some others, there may have been some different findings.”

At November’s Board of Education meeting, Williams told Recio that while Evergreen had requested staff interviews as part of its review, board policies including policies 1010, 2100, 2220 and 2600, dictate the superintendent and board chairman should serve as spokespeople in such consultant interviews. During the January meeting, Moss said Evergreen representatives were permitted to interview the staff members in charge of each area the firm requested to evaluate.

“Whoever they wanted to talk to, they were allowed to talk to,” Williams said Wednesday. “There was no time we denied them to talk to anyone. If they requested to talk to certain people, we did what we could to make that happen for them.”

However the Board of Commissioners decides to proceed with the audit information following Monday’s presentation, Shook said a “spirit of cooperation” between the two boards would be necessary going forward.

“I think our board will need to decide what we want to do, and I hope some of the Board of Education members will show up Monday,” Shook said. “We’ve got to be able to get a better working relationship between both boards.”

Highlights from the final report of the Lee County Schools audit:

Commendations

* “Lee County Schools is commended for its comprehensive annual financial reports that have received multiple awards.”

* “Lee County Schools is commended on continually examining and adjusting school and central office organization and coordination to enhance district responsibility and accountability.”

* “Lee County Schools is commended for creating a comprehensive strategic plan with specific measurable annual benchmarks.”

* “Lee County Schools is commended for implementing the use of iPads for Board meetings as one means of resources conservation.”

* “Lee County Schools is commended on its comprehensive, pro-active support for students at risk of failure in schools.”

* “A rigorous local inspection process, described by the Superintendent and Director of Transportation, has resulted in better than state average inspection scores for LCS school bus maintenance programs for the last five years.”

* “Lee County Schools has made the cleanliness and functionality of the school kitchens a high priority, which is evident by the exceptional inspection ratings received by each of its operations.”

* “Lee County Schools district is commended for its commitment to making technology available to all students through the 1:1 laptop initiative.”

Recommendations

* “Develop summary financial reports for the School Board, the Board of County Commissioners and the public.”

* “Re-convene monthly meetings of senior leaders and board leaders in the schools and county, and take other steps to create open communications.”

* “Examine turnover data to identify patterns and develop targeted strategies to increase retention.”

* “Develop and implement evaluation strategies for the laptop computer and Rosetta Stone programs immediately.”

* “Reduce staffing or months of employment at the central office level in proportion to other cuts made throughout Lee County Schools.”

* “Consolidate additional bus routes in 2012-13, where safety is not an issue, and establish guidelines for determining the conditions that would constitute grounds for a safety related route adjustment in the future.”

* “Work with Lee County Government officials to explore the possibility of establishing joint use libraries at Broadway and Greenwood Elementary Schools.”

* “Outsource the custodial function, and request that vendors present options for reducing the negative impact on current employees, including such options as absorbing current employees or incrementally outsourcing custodial operations over the next five years.”