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Monroe County schools superintendent warns of misappropriation of funds

Employees in the Monroe County School District's Food Service Department "are actually engaged in some type of misappropriation of goods and money," Superintendent Joseph Burke told the Keynoter.

The bombshell -- he gave no specifics -- is the latest to drop from the district finance scandal that started to unravel in spring 2009.

Burke said that in the near future, he would suggest the School Board consider outsourcing food service at the Keys' public schools. That was done briefly under the watch of former Superintendent Randy Acevedo, but since has been brought back in house.

With the help of the district's Audit and Finance Committee, district officials are analyzing various departments and functions, including contract approvals, transportation and food service.

Burke said Tuesday he's pleased with progress made in ensuring that as contracts are approved, paid and executed, there is scrutiny and supervision. But he also said there are still problem areas, such as with food service.

"Food service was a mess, to be quite candid," he said, with numerous problems in reporting payments made electronically that could prompt "personnel changes at several school sites" as findings are made available.

In the aftermath of the scandal that brought down Acevedo and his wife, former administrator Monique Acevedo, School Board members hired Chief Internal Auditor Ken Gentile to serve at their discretion -- not at the superintendent's.

Gentile said there has been some "tension" in his collaboration with staffers in the hunt for missing records and documentation but that he's stayed focused on analyzing the "four Es: Efficiency, effectiveness, economy and equity."

He gave the example of a public entity mowing a lawn. Efficiency breaks out as how much lawn is mowed per person, economy is the cost and effectiveness is the overall presentation and usability of the lawn. Equity is about "should we be doing this function."

Still citing the lawn mowing analogy, that means "why are we using grass and should we do this internally versus outsourcing," Gentile said. "It's the topic that provokes the most discussion with management," and "challenges why decisions are being made."

Audit Committee member Larry Murray, in a an 18-page report he wrote and released Friday, praises steps taken under Gentile's leadership but slams Burke's administration as a "culture of complacency."

"There are continuing and serious financial deficiencies within the School District," Murray wrote. "I see ineptitude, incompetence and recalcitrance. I had thought at the beginning that this administration, given the lessons of the past, would want to be proactive, to get out ahead of issues. Nothing could be further from the truth and I cannot tell you why."

Burke called Murray's assertions "misguided," adding that Murray is "on a mission or on an agenda."