Troubled charter school turned over to St. Johns County

First Coast Technical College president resigns; other administrators will stay


ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – After reviewing the an audit of financial problems at First Coast Technical College, the St. Johns County School Board agreed Tuesday to accept management of the charter school.

The audit, ordered after the school district learned the school was $600,000 in debt, found five major areas of concern with the charter school:

  • The school's overall financial condition
  • Misuse of the in-house payroll account
  • Failure to comply with federal wage reporting requirements
  • Lack of internal controls
  • Deficient administration of the purchasing card program

In the audit, which was addressed by Superintendent Joseph Joyner at Tuesday's meeting, the school district described FCTC as being in a "financial emergency."

In May, the board of FCTC suspended its president, Sandra Fortner, and two other school administrators amid allegations of unpaid bills, testing irregularities and issues with teachers.

DOCUMENT: First Coast Technical College audit

Last Wednesday, Fortner sent a letter to college officials resigning from her position.

At Tuesday's meeting, all FCTC board members agreed to accept Fortner's resignation as long as she completes a written wavier, giving up her rights to sue the school and St. Johns County School Board, by noon Friday.

According to the audit, Fortner "allowed the school to spend more than $500,000 more than it received during the first nine months of the 2015 school year." The school district's investigation also found that Fortner liquidated the school's reserve accounts at two area banks, using the money to pay funds -- combined, that cashed out to more than $400,000. 

In addition, the audit said Fortner used the in-house payroll account to pay herself additional monies without the district's approval or consent -- totaling more than $9,000. 

"The report speaks for itself. Personally, I like Sandy. I think she put her heart and soul into the school. I think she made some bad decisions that caught up with her," said Brandon Beardsley, the school's attorney.

Earlier this month, Fortner gave notice after 15 years at the charter school. She was the college's chief financial officer from 2001-20012 and had served in the top position for the past four years.

At the school board meeting Tuesday, it was revealed that Fortner has more than $40,000 worth of accrued time off over the years. The school board members are asking Fortner to waive that compensation owed to her by Friday afternoon. If she does, her resignation will be accepted. If not, she will be terminated.

The board members also voted to accept the motion to reinstate the two other school administrators placed on administrative leave.

There was a debate of whether or not St. Johns County schools should take over FCTC, with board members expressing concern since the school also operations in Clay or Putnam counties.

"(The charter) can continue to serve in the other counties even if the school is under our county," Beardsley said.

FCTC provides technical, career and adult education. As a charter school, FCTC it is part of the St. Johns County School District, but it has its own board of directors and operates autonomously.

The investigation pertaining human resources is still ongoing. Beardsley said the investigation is expected to be completed by next month. 

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