Mannix About Manatee: Changes a must for reeling school district

September 16, 2012 

Fifty-eight teachers' salaries.

Textbook costs.

E Tech Virtual School instructors.

Salary adjustments after union negotiations.

The Manatee County School District administration would have usbelieve those are among the principal unfunded expenditures that caused the mysterious budget deficit that has rocked the school system, plunged it into a leadership crisis and unleashed a firestorm of justifiable public anger.

But all we have is their word for it.

This could be an $8 million shell game.

What if the reason was something else?

Like moving general funds to capital funds to keep local contractors busy.

Or throwing good money after bad into Focus,an electronic grade program, a boondoggle since it was installed last school year.

Or consultants' fees.

Or some other expense that would be highly questionable if it ever saw the light of day.

That is how deep the cynicism and suspicion runs after the explosive revelations that school district administrators knew about the deficit in early August, yet said nothing publicly until a month later.

That is why a thorough, unfettered forensic audit of last year's budget is absolutely imperative.

The farther away from the district's bureaucratic and political sway the better.

That the school audit committee also wants an outside law firm to supervise the forensic audit speaks volumes.

It is a clear rebuke of the school district administration and the status quo, the way it has done business, the absence of accountability and the appalling dearth of transparency.

What has taken place is an egregious betrayal of the public trust.

Surely the school board must grasp the scope of this debacle and its implications.

Except for Julie Aranibar and Karen Carpenter, whose ongoing criticism of the budget process turned out to be on target, Bob Gause, Barbara Harvey and Harry Kinnan got suckered.

As plugged in as they are, did the three school board veterans not have an inkling something was awry before the budget bombshell hit, superintendent Tim McGonegal resigned and their own credibility as stewards of the public's tax money came under renewed attack?

On Monday the board members will vote on the audit committee's proposal for an outside law firm to conduct the eventual forensic audit.

Will the board realize things have to change?

Or will it be business as usual?

The community will be watching.

Mannix About Manatee, by columnist Vin Mannix, is about people and issues in Manatee County. Call Vin at 941-745-7055. Twitter:@vinmannix.

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