MANATEE -- For the past three years, the Manatee County School District hasn't had enough money in its reserves to cover an emergency as required by the state.
That's just one of the budget issues that prompted the state to help pay for a team to analyze the districts budget, staff and information technology.
The top priority, however, will be the budget and building a state-minimum 2.2 percent reserve -- or $6.3 million savings account -- before the end of the budget year on June 30.
"First and foremost, we must close out the budget," said Rick Mills, superintendent of Manatee County's school district.
While the district has already begun taking on some of the major challenges of its budget, the state is sending in a team to help examine problems with financial planning, budgeting software and staffing.
The state is sending education experts from the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, the Florida Department of Education and other organizations across the state to lend a hand in solving the Manatee County school district's budget and organizational issues.
The Florida Department of Education gave the Florida Association of District Superintendents a $25,000 grant to bring in the transition team to develop an economic recovery plan. The district will pay $5,000.
The transition team, made up of 13 education professionals, arrives Sunday to begin evaluating staffing and human resources, business and finance, teaching and learning and technology and information issues.
Mills hopes having an independent team analyze the
district's problems and help design a recovery plan will help rebuild trust in the community.
"There is a great problem with trust, and there is not a lot of confidence in the district," Mills said.
Mills said the team's primary goal is to help the district overcome its budget deficit and to find enough money to bring the reserves to $6.3 million. The team will also design a plan to monitor the budget. Mills, who said the school district staff is already lean, is also counting on the team to assist with his district reorganization plan.
"Meeting the fund balance is critical," Mills said, "then we will look at reallocations and repurposing for reinvesting in our employees."
With economic recovery the top priority, Mills said the transition team will be given about 10 items to address.
School safety is on the list. Mills also wants better ways to make the district's performance and data more transparent to the public.
"We can't wait a whole year to find out that what we're doing isn't working," Mills said.
The transition team members bring expertise in finance, human resources and instruction. On Monday, the team also will meet with the citizen's advisory group, which counseled the school board during the superintendent search.
The transitions team members are scheduled to visit schools and district departments and review schools records, reports and expenditures. They also will meet with Mills, school board members and district officials daily to talk about their findings.
Bill Vogel, the former superintendent of Seminole County and member of the citizen's advisory group, was hand-picked by Mills to lead the team. Mill said that Vogel's leadership style is similar to his own.
"My role is to assist in facilitating appointments, gathering data and writing a report," Vogel said. The transition team will determine the current status of the district with a heavy focus on business and finance, and write a report with their recommendations.
"We are fortunate to have this grant," Vogel said. "The district has been under scrutiny by the Florida Department of Education because of its budget situation."
The Florida Association of District School Superintendents selected the other transition team members, including Vogel's wife Roberta "Bobbi" Vogel. The members are Stephen Bouzianis, Jane Chaney, Pamela Craig, George Kasmac, Margo Marten, Betty Messer, James Messer, Luther Rogers, Conley Weiss and Constance White-Davis.
Donald Griesheimer, the association's associate executive officer and the co-leader of the transition team, said that in preparation for the visit the team has been working on pulling data and looking for documents to review. Griesheimer has met with Mills to talk about the needs of the district.
"Everyone is on same playing field," Griesheimer said.
As co-leader, Griesheimer's role includes interviewing school board members and coordinating the team's activities. Griesheimer is confident the team will be able to come up with a recovery plan in one week.
"We have many years of prior experience," Griesheimer said, adding that the Florida Association of District Superintendents has assembled more than 100 transition teams. "This is definitely not something we started doing yesterday."
Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @ericabearl