Manatee School District's superintendent releases Economic Recovery Plan after calling financial situation 'dire'

7:54 PM, Jun 3, 2013   |    comments
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Bradenton, Florida- A district in "severe economic crisis" is how a 12-member Transition Team of statewide educators has described the Manatee School District, but on Monday, Superintendent Rick Mills released the team's findings and plan to repair the district's financial health after four years of it operating in the red.

"I felt anger and frustration," said Brian Davis, a teacher at Manatee Elementary School who feels teachers and students have bared the brunt of the district's financial problems.

"When we have to share books, we have to share books between five classrooms," he explained. "We can't buy supplies needed for kids, and have to curtail field trips we take."

Superintendent Rick Mills said didn't expect to find the district in its current condition. 

"The situation is much dire than I anticipated when I arrived," said Mills. 

The new superintendent, who took office in March, presented the school board with a 100 day plan to get the district moving forward again.

"We are at a fiscal cliff, and we have to do what we have to do to get fiscally sound," he said.

According to Mills, the immediate answers to the district's problems are in the Transition Team's 150 page report outlining the district's weaknesses. The team said the district has been operating using "ill-conceived practices" and "strong measures" are needed for the Economic Recovery Plan to take place. 

"Basic structure, thinking, attitude and culture must change in the district," Mills read aloud from the report.

The team also said the budget problems appear to have impacted teachers' moral, and could be the cause of the district receiving a C grade, and a ranking in 47th in the state.

"There is lack of district-wide accountability, resulting in schools in the district doing their own thing instead of supporting each other," Mills said in reference to the report.

Click here to read the Transition Team's full report and the superintendent's plan.

The district has seen a $38 million shortfall over the last four years.

"It's unfortunate," said Mills. "Some circumstances have occurred out of what I see as a travesty in leadership in financial management."

District officials said the previous superintendent, Tim McGonegal, over hired and over spent, and even used the district's rainy day fund. According to Mills, the state requires districts to have a running balance of $10 million, but their district has not had that in three years. District officials also said the district's student-to-teacher ratio has been below the state's class size limits.

In a phone interview McGonegal told 10 News he's accepted responsibility.  

"I did take responsibility; I resigned," he said before adding that "sloppy budgeting for expenses" was the cause of the issue. 

McGonegal also said that despite the district's obstacles this year, teachers and students have done well and he wishes them the very best.

Superintendent Mills and the school board have put part of the Transition Team's plan in play by cutting nearly $22 million- 182 teachers and 80 district positions- out of next year's budget. The cuts will give the district the $10 million in savings, and cover $6 million of this year's debts.

The district will repay a third of the money it's borrowed from schools, and teachers will receive a two percent pay raise- though one teacher said that won't make much of an improvement.

"A two percent raise after six years of no step raises, including increases in pensions and benefits payments- it's a drop in the bucket and will not make my life any different. I'm still not going to be able to buy the books I need for my kids."

But Mills said he wants to do what he can to move forward. 

"We have not done a good job supporting our schools. I'm here to assume responsibility for the problems and challenges, and move us forward."

Mills is confident that with everyone's support, the district can recover.

Members of the Department of Education and some school superintendents will monitor the district's progress during the next school year. The superintendent warned that if the Manatee School District does not fix its economic problems, it risks having the state take over take control of all operations.

Follow 10 News Reporter Isabel Mascarenas on twitter @IzzyMascarenas


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