Kinnan ends Manatee school board tenure, budget woes continue

kbergen@bradenton.comNovember 12, 2012 

MANATEE -- If it was the end of an era at board Chairman Harry Kinnan's last school board meeting Monday night, then school administrators seemed eager to embark on the next one.

But how the district will identify and fix the systemic flaws that led to a September budget crisis caused by $11.3 million of unbudgeted items continued to remain unclear Monday.

An update on the external forensic audit revealed little about what investigators have discovered so far.

"The auditors have told me several times "everybody has been very cooperative and open," Internal Auditor Ed Daugherty said. "They are not at the point of being able to tell us when they are going to be able to wrap this thing up."

Former superintendent Tim McGonegal has been interviewed and has cooperated with investigators from the Tampa-based firm Navigant, who the district hired in October, Daugherty said. McGonegal resigned in the aftermath of the budget crisis.

There were other subtle reminders Monday night that the district has ways to go before it overcomes its financial difficulties.

David Gayler, interim superintendent, stressed that there has been no change to the fund balance before board members unanimously passed a series of budget amendments.

But he also quickly mentioned that the district is taking out a $50 million short-term loan for cash flow as they wait for property tax revenue to come through in the next couple of months. The loan will most likely cover teachers' salaries, one of the district's largest expenses.

The district's fund balance, or reserves, suffered primarily in the September budget crisis. District officials were able to bring a $3.5 million deficit to $6.4 million through a bailout plan approved a week later.

Meanwhile, momentum is slowly gaining in the superintendent search. Kinnan said that brochures advertising the position have been finalized. An ad has run in Education Week magazine. And a board-appointed citizen's advisory group for the search with meet with Wayne Blanton of the Florida School Boards Association on Dec. 5.

Much of Monday's meeting was devoted to words of praise for Kinnan, who officially ends a 16-year school board career when the board reorganizes on Nov. 20. Dave "Watchdog" Miner, a long-time advocate for transparency in the district, was elected Nov. 6 to take his place.

The Manatee Education Foundation held a brief gathering for Kinnan at the school board building before the meeting and administrators, teachers, friends and family gathered to praise the man that has worked as an educator, advisor, coach, school board member and advocate in the community.

Kinnan said the board's biggest challenge in the future will be achieving what they want to achieve with less resources. He thanked his fellow board members -- who presented him with an engraved clock -- for the opportunity to serve with them.

"It's important for the board to show unity because it inspires confidence and trust from the community," Kinnan said. "There has never been a day that I haven't been thankful and glad that I am on the school board."

Then he struck the gavel one last time.

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

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