Joe Gruters calls for fresh audit of Sarasota School finances

The high-performing district has faced recent scrutiny over management.

The Florida Legislature will conduct a follow-up on a Sarasota County Schools audit after an initial review found concerns over record keeping.

State Sen. Joe Gruters, whose district includes all of Sarasota County, requested further review. He said he was especially concerned over a finding the School Board had no documentation for 40 percent of costs.

The audit itself pointedly read: “The district had not established policies or procedures for effectively monitoring and documenting the reasonableness of general conditions costs.”

“Wherever you see an almost 40 percent failure rate in a certain area, it makes you question what’s going on,” Gruters said. “I want to see how widespread the problem is.”

Sarasota County Superintendent of Schools Todd Bowden sat in the audience as the Joint Legislative Audit Committee voted unanimously for further review. But Bowden stressed he was in town to testify at a separate hearing earlier Thursday on teacher pay.

Bowden welcomed an outside audit, which he felt was appropriate.

“What he (Gruters) is asking for is typical,” Bowden said. “You can have a state auditor come back and see if this is a single specific issue or something systemic.”

Gruters said he and the schools leader shared cordial greetings but did not discuss substance, though the Senator did have more in-depth conversation with the district’s lobbyist.

Gruters specifically called on the district to review the change orders and cost overruns related to Suncoast Technical College South Campus. Bowden served as principal of that school before being promoted to Superintendent in March 2017.

Notably, Bowden has come under public fire recently for his handling of a sexual harassment complaint against Assistant Superintendent Jeff Maultsby. An investigation report on that will be made public this week, but was already leaked to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

But Gruters stressed he has no problem with Bowden himself. Gruters’ own children attend Sarasota County schools, and the district remains one of the top performing in Florida.

“The only thing I care about as a parent is that kids are receiving the best possible education,” he said. “I think Sarasota Schools are doing an excellent job.”

But as a state official, Gruters said he has to demand fiscal responsibility.

“As a senator, I need to make sure public tax dollars are being used in an appropriate way,” he said.

Bowden said the district recently hired an internal auditor, spurred in part by changes in state law.

Gruters did praise the district for creating an internal auditor position in the wake of findings. But he said it’s important for the state to conduct an outside review as well.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].

One comment

  • Cheryl L Cook

    October 25, 2019 at 3:24 am

    This has been an ongoing struggle between Gruters’ buddies Eric Robinson and former Gucci handbag salesgal Bridgett Ziegler vs. the three female School Board members and Todd Bowden. The saga continues, back and forth, back and forth. Elections coming up in 2020 and an Eric Robinson acolyte will be substituted to one of the three female seats via Gruters’ directive to Sarasota Republican voters: when it comes to elections,vote for the Republicans you are told by us vote for. If you don’t like it, sit down and shut up. See Herald Tribune articles 2017 when the Gruters/Eric Robinson gang invoked what a week later would be called an illegal maneuver:endorsed one Republican candidate over another in a local primary election, without a policy in place to allow them to do so. But damage done-thanks to media coverage by the Herald Tribune. Deborah Anderson, now former Venice city councilwoman, lifelong active Republican and slow-growth commissioner in Venice, did the unthinkable – filed for re-election after having voted against developers’ projects based on legal authority. During her re-election bid, Mrs. Anderson, herself an attorney, went through a political kneecapping for having the audacity of protecting the city of Venice’s unique low density qualities while she was in office. So, in the presence of developer Pat Neal, Sarasota County Republican leadership used their meeting to publicly warn all Republicans:vote how we tell you to vote and sit down and shut up. Read Gruters’ quotes for yourselves. What a shame Gruters is dragging the entire Florida Senate into his grudge match. Any investigation should be assigned to a non-political investigatory agency. It’s a sad day in Florida when local crybaby Gruters drags the entire state into his power grab. Instead, the voters should be asking the feds to investigate the current redistricting scandal by Sarasota County Commissioners – Gruters’ other buddies. While Mike Moran and Nancy Detert-who resigned from the Senate to walk into the county commission seat in 2016, real Republicans and Dems can only sit by helplessly and watch the few Party Republicans bring more shame on a once lovely little Florida county.

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