Lawmakers want state audit of Duval County schools' budget

Former Duval School Board member says district 'overspent' $21 million

By Tarik Minor - Anchor, I-TEAM reporter, Eric Wallace - Senior Producer, I-TEAM

Rep. Jason Fischer

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Two Florida lawmakers are calling for a state audit of the Duval County School Board's finances, wanting to know why the school district spent about $21 million more than it had during the current budget year.

State Rep. Jason Fischer, R-Jacksonville, sent a letter Monday to the chairman of the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee requesting the audit. In the letter, Fisher, a former member of the Duval County School Board, noted "the district's questionable budgetary practices. ... We cannot afford to allow the Duval County school district to continue to operate in this manner."

"My big concern is how they are spending their money," Fischer told News4Jax. "You can spend money on things that work and you can spend money on things that don't. They spent $21 million more than they originally set out to spend, and it's really concerning and someone needs to be held accountable for that."

This request for an audit comes as the district considers joining a lawsuit to block an education bill that Fischer supported, which would increase funding for charter schools and direct more facilities and maintenance money from public schools to charter schools.

In his letter, Fischer wrote, "I'm deeply concerned that the school district is taking their eye off the ball by considering frivolous lawsuits against the state rather than getting their financial house in order."

DOCUMENTS: Rep. FIscher's letter to Legislature Audit Chairman | Rep. Gruters' letter

In response to Fischer's request, State Rep. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, also sent a letter Wednesday to the chairman of the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee, expressing his support for the audit. 

Paula Wright, the chairwoman of the Duval County School Board, said the district has already agreed to request an independent audit.

"The financial health of our school district is paramount as it directly supports programs and services linked to the academic progress of our students," Paula Wright said in a statement. "During the audit committee meeting last Tuesday, it was unanimously agreed upon by the board members in attendance to request an independent audit after discussing the process to balance the 2016-2017 budget. We are currently determining the next steps to conduct an independent audit."

Fischer was elected to the School Board in 2012 and left after one term to run for District 16 of the state Legislature.

"I certainly hope that, at the end of the day, that most of the practices they followed were right, but they spent $21 million more than they took in. Something went wrong. Something happened that shouldn’t have happened and we need to get to the bottom of it."

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