Mills gets packed agenda at first Manatee school board meeting

New super gets packed agenda at first board meeting

eearl@bradenton.comMarch 26, 2013 

MANATEE-- The new superintendent of Manatee schools Rick Mills will have a lot on his plate over the next few weeks. The school board met Monday to discuss issues such as the audit committee recommendations, school staff allocations, and charter schools.

Audit committee chair Bobbie Windham announced Monday that the committee approved the processes to follow up on the recommendations made by external auditors that were released March 7.

Recommendations include reviewing textbook expenditures over the past five years and confirming those numbers and meeting more often to monitor budgeting processes.

The audit committee has also approved improvements to the charter to clarify the committee's independence and function, Windham said. One improvement is making the audit committee independent from the school board, meaning that no school board members will serve on the audit committee. Other changes include meeting bimonthly rather than quarterly, clarifying terminology in the current charter, and providing an orientation to committee members to ensure that everyone understands the committee's functions.

Interim superintendent Dave Gayler even proposed that the audit committee change its name to the independent oversight committee.

These proposed changes will move on to be reviewed by the CFO of Manatee schools Michael Boyer.

External findings will be reported at the April 8 school board meeting.

"This time the guidelines will be specific and adhered to," said school board chair Karen Carpenter.

Boyer said that there are still findings to address, although the school board has reached the end of their deadline to submit a report on the findings and approve the audit committee report from June 2012.

"I feel like every time I think we can't get any lower, new levels are reached," said school board vice chair Julie Aranibar. "This is the last year we do this."

The movement to approve the budget amendments for Jan. 2013, which certified that the numbers were correct, carried 5-0. Mills is hoping to have a 2.2 percent fund balance by next year, believing that under his guidance the school board can climb out of its financial shortfall. School board members hope that he is right.

The school board also discussed the March 11 Central Coalition that brought together superintendents, school board members, and finance people from around the state in Tallahassee to talk about public education and public policy.

School board member Dave "Watchdog" Miner attended the coalition and represented Manatee County in the education appropriation committee. Miner said that it is important to get face time with legislators.

During Miner's time in the capitol, legislators unanimously passed opposition for the bill that would allow teachers and school personnel to be armed. The bill was proposed by state representative Greg Steube and called for principals in Florida public schools to designated one or more persons to carry concealed weapons while they fill their normal school duties.

Carpenter has commented previously that she feels the bill would burden school staff with responsibilities meant for law enforcement.

The school board also unanimously passed that the new student to teacher ratio be a standard of 18:1. At a school board workshop Monday, Boyer also proposed that teaching aids be cut back to one aid per every 15 teachers, ESE classroom ratios be raised from 15:1 to 18:1, and that the number of speech therapists be reduced. Boyer said that the total savings from these new allocations would measure up to about $10 million for the 2013-2014 school year.

"I do not plan on sitting here having this same conversation next year," Aranibar said.

Another topic at the board meeting concerned charter schools. The school board unanimously passed the non-renewal for Bradenton Charter school.

Part of the school board's duty is to monitor the performance of charter schools with which they make agreements. This includes a renewal and review process. A review team comprised of 32 members of completed the review of Bradenton Charter School in January and found performance to be unsatisfactory. Some findings were a matter of concern five years ago that never got resolved. According to the school board, the charter school will have 14 days to ask for a hearing and will be given an opportunity to present information on why there was a failure to meet the requirements for student performance.

Shortcomings included a governing board that "did not appear to be stable," according to the findings presented.

"They did a great job with things like parent relations and insurance," Gause said. "But from the curriculum side, the wheels were falling off."

The school board also unanimously approved the contract for the 2013-2018 school years for the all-boys' charter school Visible Men, whose application was approved in September. The school was founded by Neil Phillips and Lewis Parker.

School board member Barbara Harvey said that she is thrilled about this contract as she sees it as a sign of moving forward.

"I'm on a cloud," Harvey said.

Smaller, but still important, topics of the school board meeting included approving the revision of policy 2.5, which states that school board members must maintain residency in their school board member area from which they were elected throughout their whole term. These five residence areas, are different from the Manatee County commission district. The revision passed 3:2, as schools board members Barbara Harvey and Bob Gause found the change to policy unnecessary and confusing, but Mills recommended the change. Additional changes may be made to the policy regarding the five residence areas, but only in odd-numbered years. The school board also approved the calendar for the 2013-2914 school year.

The meeting Monday was Mills' first has superintendent.

"I have never felt so graciously welcomed," Mills said, adding that he believes that as a team the school board can make great things happen.

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