Sarasota County, FL Public School District: Allegations of fraud, waste and abuse answered

Sarasota County School Board Members

Sarasota County School Board. Front row: Todd, Zucker, Brown. Back row: Goodwin, Kovach

I received a letter from a Sarasota County School District employee. The letter contained a number of concerns/allegations in it. I asked Sarasota Superintendent Lori White to respond to three of those concerns/allegations directed specifically at district activities.

Here are the specific Sarasota County school district allegations (bolded) verbatim and the RESPONSES from Scott Ferguson, Communications Specialist, Sarasota County Schools:

I have never seen such waste as what this [Sarasota school district] administration does with tax money. We have seen them toss brand new books in the dumpster that are still wrapped in cellophane.

RESPONSE: Below you will find the language from the state statute regarding disposal of instructional materials. We are very frugal in our purchasing efforts and buy only what is needed and will be used by our teachers and students. Textbooks typically rotate on a five-year purchase cycle. If textbooks or ancillary materials are still in reasonably good condition after the five years, we offer them to our charter schools on a first- come, first-served basis and they are responsible for boxing them and picking them up. During last year’s replacement of elementary reading materials, we also encouraged teachers to keep the leveled readers as additions to classroom libraries or send them home with students. One school raised money to ship some of the old materials to a school in Guatemala and some books were donated to local churches and after-school programs.

This year’s adoption of English-Language Arts materials for grades six-12 will replace 11-year-old resources. Older materials will all be recycled due to their condition. Our district implemented a new recycling program at each school last year; the district earns a small rebate based on the weight of goods recycled. Incidentally, older textbooks are often shrink-wrapped before being stored; the fact that a book is shrink-wrapped does not mean that it is new.

Language from state statute 1006.41: Disposal of instructional materials

(1) Instructional materials that have become unserviceable or surplus or are no longer on state contract may be disposed of, under adopted rule of the district school board, by:

(a) Giving or lending the materials to other public education programs within the district or state, to the teachers to use in developing supplementary teaching materials, to students or others, or to any charitable organization, governmental agency, home education students, private school, or state.

(b) Selling the materials to used book dealers, recycling plants, pulp mills, or other persons, firms, or corporations upon such terms as are most economically advantageous to the district school board.

(2) The district school board may prescribe by rule the manner for destroying instructional materials that cannot be disposed of as provided in subsection (1).

(3) All moneys received for the sale, exchange, or other disposition of instructional materials shall be deposited in the district school fund and added to the district appropriation for instructional materials.

An outrageous amount was spent on basketball hoops at an area high school so that they could be electronically lifted up after hours so that no one could use them when school was out. (How does the sum of $40,000 seem to you)

RESPONSE: The most recent gymnasium project is at Venice High School. It includes electronic basketball backboards; six backboards and system/hardware/wiring was about $39,000. We have similar systems in all of our comprehensive high schools. They are not there to prevent people from using the courts, but rather to respond to various changing needs of the space. Gym floors are first and foremost instructional spaces, used for classes like physical education. In addition, they support a large number of extracurricular activities, which often require different configurations of the space, including, in some cases, the use of the gyms as emergency shelters. Home games and assemblies in gyms require the four side basketball backboards to be lifted up, so that bleachers can be pulled out. Electronic basketball backboard lifts allow staff to change the configuration more quickly and safely than the previous manual systems.

Over $25,000 each was spent on several people to train them in the same course. One of these people is set to retire this coming month [March-April]. I guess now the schools will hire him as a consultant at an outstanding price – let the taxpayers beware!

RESPONSE: We know of no training for district employees that cost over $25,000 per person. We can research specific allegations but without specifics of what training the person alleges cost this much, we can’t further address this allegation.

I appreciate the candid replies from the School District and employees who voice concerns about expenditures of property taxpayer dollars. I will leave it up to the readers of this column to decide if Sarasota County School Board is properly supervising district expenditures or not.

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