Audit: Gadsden Co. School District wrongly awarded teacher bonuses

By: News Service of Florida
November 1, 2019

GADSDEN COUNTY, Fla. — Gadsden County School District administrators erroneously distributed nearly $39,000 in teacher bonuses to individuals who were not eligible for the awards under the state's “Best and Brightest” scholarship program, according to a report issued by the Florida Auditor General this week.

The audit, released Tuesday, found that the district offered awards totaling $13,238 during the 2018-19 school year to school counselors, pre-kindergarten teachers and assistant principals, who were ineligible to receive awards under the program’s guidelines.

Auditors also found the district offered awards of $800 to 146 teachers, who only should have received $709, resulting in overpayments of more than $13,000. The audit also found that 13 classroom teachers received awards that totaled $12,000 during the 2018-19 school year, even though they had separated from the district during the school year. Under the bonus program, school districts are required to determine whether instructors who have been granted the awards are still teaching in Florida, and thus remain eligible for the awards.

But the Gadsden administrators did not keep such records, auditors found. The audit noted that district personnel said the errors occurred because the employee who administered the bonus program retired in the middle of the school year.

The district also said the state Department of Education’s guidance was not always “properly interpreted.” School district officials, the report noted, should remedy “any improper scholarships awarded during the 2018-19 fiscal year,” including the over-awarded amounts flagged by auditors and “any other improper awards identified by district procedures.” Without "effective procedures to verify scholarship recipient eligibility, there is an increased risk that scholarships may be awarded to ineligible recipients,” auditors wrote in the report.

District officials said they "will take the appropriate action as defined by FDOE (Florida Department of Education) in the resolution of the questioned amounts totaling $38,954.73." The district "is committed to resolving the questioned costs in accordance with the guidance" from the education department, district officials said in their response to the audit.

Gov. Ron DeSantis told reporters this week that next year will be “the year of the teacher,” and has proposed increasing starting pay for Florida teachers to $47,500. The governor said he also is considering providing bonuses for teachers and principals, although he has not released details of such a proposal.

Meanwhile, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, has filed legislation repealing the state’s long-controversial bonus program.

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