Mannix About Manatee: New superintendent has his work cut out for him

June 9, 2013 

School's out, but it sure doesn't feel like the happy days and good times traditionally associated with the start of summer recess.

Maybe for kids, the way it should be.

Can't say the same for the rest of us who understand and appreciate the important role the education community plays in our town and the vitality it brings to it.

Not after the sturm und drang the Manatee County School District has been going through of late.

Though it's been anticipated for months there would have to be drastic measures taken after the revelations of astonishing mismanagement by district administration, the numbers brought on by the fallout are still staggering:

• 180 teachers laid off,

• 96 district staff jobs eliminated,

• $36 million of red ink due to a collective budget shortfall that goes back to 2007.

Yikes!

Those aren't the sort of end-of-the-school-year developments that make for a fond summer sendoff for our teaching community.

Especially for those who got pink slips, while survivors get merit raises.

That a number of laid-off teachers are supposed to be re-hired come fall is encouraging, but it's small solace.

Superintendent Rick Mills may not be a popular gentleman right now, especially with school administrators and athletic directors whose internal funds were taken -- borrowed? -- to help shore up the district's deficit.

But we've got to cut him some slack.

His is the unenviable task of sorting through and straightening out the mess he inherited when he started this job.

That was March 20,

hardly four months ago.

The issues Mills is facing didn't just happen overnight.

He's trying to change a culture that is entrenched.

A culture rife with cronyism and incompetence.

A culture of fear and intimidation.

That is going to take time to transform.

The superintendent must use that time wisely.

The same goes for the freedom he has been granted to do what's necessary as he sees fit.

We don't want an empire builder.

As Mills reorganizes and builds his team it would behoove him to do so with a staff of directors who engages the teaching community and genuinely listens to it.

They don't need more condescension.

Or lip service.

As noted in the report by the transition team of Florida Associationof Area District Superintendents, Manatee'steachers and staff have "borne the brunt" of the ongoing funding crisis with pay cuts and benefit cuts.

Add the loss of 180 jobs.

Yet, the report went on, "through all of the financial challenges, commitment to changing the district was evident in teachers and leaders in the community."

Heed that, Superintendent Mills.

Oh, and have a nice summer.

Mannix About Manatee, by columnist Vin Mannix, is about people and issues in Manatee County. Call Vin at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix

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