Elite team confers to diagnose Manatee school ills

rdymond@bradenton.comApril 22, 2013 

MANATEE -- A dozen professionals from around the state were meeting Monday morning with a citizens advisory panel, as they begin their review of operations at the Manatee County School District.

The 12 experts from the Florida Association of District School Superintendents are charged with developing a financial recovery plan to equalize the $3.5 million deficit faced by the Manatee County School District, and will scrutinize the organizational structure from top to bottom to do so, said Bill Vogel, a team coordinator.

"Even though we are focusing on economic recovery, you can't look at just one part of the organization," Vogel said. "You have to look at instruction and everything else as well."

This is the first time a Florida Association of District School Superintendent study team has been hired to come to Manatee County, Vogel said. In June, the team will release the complete results of Sunday's closed-to-the-public meeting, Vogel added.

Group members will be available to answer questions at a Citizens Advisory Committee meeting at 10 a.m. Monday at the School Administration Building, 215 Manatee Ave. W., Vogel said.

Vogel, a Manatee County resident and former school superintendent in Seminole and St. Lucie counties, was on the recent Manatee superintendent search team, Vogel said Manatee citizens are getting a good bang for their buck with this evaluation -- it cost $5,000 from the district plus a $25,000 grant from the Florida Department of Education -- to engage this team of experts.

The FADSS team will compare Manatee County with

similar-size Florida school districts to ID where Manatee should streamline operations and expenses.

"These are professionals who have expertise in areas such as business, finance, operations, human resources, technology and instruction," Vogel said.

New Manatee Superintendent Rick Mills took over a district in the throes of a budget crisis. The district must have $9 million in the bank by June 30 to meet the state-mandated level of savings of 3 percent of its total operating budget, Vogel said.

Right now, the district has $6.3 million, so it is roughly $2.7 million short.

"First and foremost, we must close out the budget," Mills said previously.

"I think what Mr. Mills has done is come in here, quickly assessed the situation and has moved quickly," Vogel said.

Mills cut 188 positions for the 2013-2014 school year, of which 93 were directly related to instruction, Vogel said. It is unknown exactly how much money the personnel cuts saved, Vogel said.

But those moves, coupled with changes Vogel's team will suggest, make him confident enough to project an improving picture going forward.

"Already for the 2013-2014 year, Manatee has made significant changes in staffing allocation and it appears we will be able to save $11 million for next year," Vogel said. "I feel this team will make recommendations to the superintendent to support his efforts to restore financial stability and regain the public trust."

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686.

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