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Audit: UWF Under-Reports Complete Florida


A committee of the UWF Board of Trustees on Wednesday received a report on the audit of the Complete Florida program.

Complete Florida is a statewide virtual learning program aimed at helping with distance learning and older students returning to school. Gov. Ron DeSantis last month vetoed its $29.4 million budget, as part of a more than $1 billion cut to education. He blames a loss of revenues to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As we were looking at the budget, my goal was to try to safeguard the historical achievements that we were able to do,” said the governor. “While also realizing historic savings so that we could put Florida on a more solid fiscal foundation.”

Complete Florida had come under scrutiny last fall amid concerns about mismanagement and expenditures. Speaking on Zoom, BOT chairman Dave Cleveland reminded the trustees that there was an absence of malice in the report.

“It may just ultimately be determined, that due to differing interpretations of the appropriations statute, we may have to agree to disagree and move on,” said Cleveland. “It is my hope and desire that the integrity of this institution and its people be preserved. Good people, who are doing their job to the best of their ability, in executing their understanding of an arcane reimbursement process.”

The audit, by the accounting firm Saltmarsh, Cleaveland & Gund, found that the program had underreported about $1.6 million from the 2014-15 to the 2018-19 academic years. The committee studying the audit plans to work with the Florida Board of Governors to improve financial reporting.

“It looks to me like, at this point, that we certainly have taken a financial hit that’s going to affect us for some time,” said committee chair Robert Jones. “I think that that’s been made pretty clear, and I’m glad this report brought that out clearly.”

The committee is scheduled to meet in regular session Aug. 20 and could make a recommendation to the full 13-member BOT. In response to the questionable accounting, there’s now tightened fiscal control, according to Betsy Bowers, the school’s Chief Financial Officer.

“I do believe that we will have stronger controls overall in relation to moving forward; and making sure that everything is as accurate and ties back to our ledgers, before being distributed off our campus,” Bowers told the panel. 

Credit UWF
Dr. Martha Saunders

“When you hear the term ‘audit,’ people kind of flinch; but I think of it as like a checkup,” said UWF President Martha Saunders after the meeting. You go, you hope you’re not sick, but if something’s wrong you want the doctor to find it.”

After the 45-minute meeting, Saunders said the audit was long awaited, and very thorough.

“They did a good job of presenting the highlights and sort of guiding us for further reading,” Saunders said. “[It] answered the questions they were asked, and we were glad to see it. It gives our board now a full array of information to move forward and make decisions.”

Saunders was UWF’s provost when Complete Florida was established in 2014, and succeeded Judy Bense in 2017. She was asked if the audit was a moot point, given the governor’s veto of its entire funding.

“It certainly illuminated a number of issues within; I think moving forward as the state rebuilds something similar, it will be useful,” said Saunders. “Certainly useful to us internally because we identified a number of oversight opportunities that our CFO has implemented.”

The full UWF Board of Trustees is scheduled to meet Sept. 9. At that time, the committee is expected to submit its recommendations.