TAMPA — In the sixth hour of an already trying meeting Tuesday of the Hillsborough County School Board, Chairwoman April Griffin brought up the idea of hiring an independent auditor.
"It's being done, and it's being done successfully in other school districts," Griffin said.
State law says a board "may employ an internal auditor to perform ongoing financial verification of the financial records of the school district. The internal auditor shall report directly to the district school board or its designee."
Griffin, who became chairwoman in November, had intended to put the matter to a vote during her first business meeting on Dec. 11.
But she said superintendent MaryEllen Elia, in a conversation earlier that day, persuaded her to wait, as the board was already taking up emotional issues involving the exceptional student education program.
Griffin contends an independent auditor is needed because there is not enough accountability in the school district. She cited controversies last year involving a mentoring program and a scholarship fund.
Schools attorney Tom Gonzalez said the law allows the board to hire a financial auditor, not a performance auditor.
Member Candy Olson pointed out that the district already undergoes dozens of financial audits every year, not including those by its internal auditing staff.
"That's a lot of time and money on auditors," she said. "I'm reluctant to add more financial obligation onto this," just as she was reluctant to commit money Tuesday to hiring school guards.
Member Doretha Edgecomb said she sees no evidence that the district needs an auditor.
Member Stacy White worried that the auditor might be asked to conduct performance audits, which, according to Gonzalez, would not be allowed by law.
Griffin said that, given White's previous positions on accountability and fiscal responsibility, she would expect him to favor the idea. "I would hope that you, of all board members, would support me on this," she said.
But he voted no, and the motion failed, 4-3.