Manatee School Board takes microscope to district operations

cnudi@bradenton.comMay 14, 2013 

BRADENTON -- The Manatee County School Board meeting Monday ran past its usual two hours as board members questioned several agenda items that other times might have been passed through with little comment.

About 10 items were removed from the list of actions generally approved with one vote to allow the board to hear a staff report, discuss and vote on each item individually.

"To do business as usual in unusual times is not in my comfort level," said board member Julie Aranibar when questioning staff about a contract.

The Manatee County School Board is trying to make up a multimillion-dollar shortage in its legally required school funding reserves.

The board eventually approved all items, but not before questioning newly hired School Superintendent Rick Mills or staff personnel.

The renewal of two maintenance contracts, generally approved with little board scrutiny, became a bit contentious.

Aranibar asked why the contracts were presented

for approval on the date of expiration without giving the board any time to study them.

School Board Member Dave "Watchdog" Miner asked why the contracts could not be written to expire at the end of the fiscal year.

Mills said the contracts are needed to keep school buses running.

"We can't have buses breaking down because we don't have parts," Mills said, "and we can't have mold in schools," referring to building-inspection contract.

The procedure the school board will use to hire a new general counsel attorney also came under the microscope.

The board asked Scott Martin, assistant superintendent of support services, to simplify the hiring process. Martin, already slated to become staff attorney for the school district, offered to change the process from a request for proposals from legal firms to a request for qualifications, which he said gives the board more flexibility in the hiring process.

Board Member Bob Gause said he preferred the RFP because it provides an exact figure of how much it will cost the district for the services.

But the board voted 4-1, with Gause in the minority, to approve using a request for qualifications. Voting in favor: Karen Carpenter, Barbara Harvey, Aranibar and Minor.

The board also approved selling 51 school district vehicles. Buses, vans and other school vehicles will be sold at auction a June 15. All auction information will be posted on the school district website.

Two issues were approved with little discussion during a public hearing. One involved rewriting district policy on nepotism and the other involved fraternization.

Both policies were rewritten to make clear someone who works for the district cannot hire a family member and decisions cannot be made based on a romantic involvement with a fellow employee.

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