Public hearings to be held for Manatee schools superintendent search

kbergen@bradenton.comOctober 2, 2012 

MANATEE -- Now that former Charlotte County schools superintendent David Gayler has agreed to serve as interim superintendent here, the Manatee County school board will return its focus to the search for a permanent district leader.

The board will invite the public to join the process by holding three public hearings, in which the community can express their opinions about what qualifications they want in the next superintendent. Former superintendent Tim McGonegal resigned on Sept. 10 after revealing that

the district had overspent by $8 million last year, causing a $3.5 million deficit in this year's budget.

The hearings are scheduled for 6 p.m. Oct. 11 at Braden River High School Auditorium, 6 p.m. Oct. 15 at Manatee High School's Davis Theatre and 6 p.m. Oct. 16 at Palmetto High School Auditorium.

Florida School Boards Association Executive Director Wayne Blanton, who the board voted to work with on Sept. 24, said the next step in the search is establishing timelines.

"I will come down and work with the board to get the process started on a national scale," said Blanton, who will help the board determine salary ranges, deadline for applications and a starting date so that advertising can begin.

A workshop to discuss the search is scheduled for 3 p.m. Oct. 22, before the scheduled board meeting.

Blanton said it might not take long for applicants to roll in, though a full search is a four- to six-month process.

"In less than 30 days you should start receiving some applications," Blanton said.

In the meantime, progress continues in picking the firm that will conduct a forensic audit for the 2011-12 fiscal year.

The need for a forensic audit followed then-superintendent McGonegal's acknowledgement that the district had forgotten to budget $8 million in expenses last year.

Trenam Kemker, the law firm chosen by the district's audit committee to pick an audit firm, has identified 24 firms that could handle the task, board Chairman Jim Toomey said.

After reviewing proposals from interested firms, Trenam Kemker will recommend the firm with the best qualifications and reasonable fees at the next scheduled meeting at 10 a.m. Oct. 11 at the district administration building.

The committee and the school board can reject the firm's choice if they feel its fees are too expensive.

"If they come back with an astronomical figure, we can go back to the drawing board," Toomey said.

Trenam Kemker also will draft a preservation of evidence letter to present at the next school board meeting. The letter will inform district employees that electronic files are to be backed up and paper documents not destroyed or manipulated during the process.

The school board must also research how much former employees can be required to cooperate with the audit investigation. School board attorney John Bowen has previously said that McGonegal and former assistant superintendent of district services Jim Drake, who were overseeing the district when overspending occurred, cannot be forced to participate in the audit investigation because they no longer work for the district.

The board will present their findings at the Monday school board meeting, which begins at 5:45 p.m.

Katy Bergen, Herald education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.

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