State approves Manatee school district's financial recovery plan

eearl@bradenton.comJune 29, 2013 

MANATEE -- The state has approved the Manatee County School district's financial recovery plan that promises to replenish the district's reserves to a state-mandated 3 percent of its total budget or $10.3 million by June 30, 2014.

When Superintendent Rick Mills submitted his plan to the state June 10, the district's reserves -- or savings account -- were nearly drained with just a little more than $100,000 in the account. The Florida Department of Education approved Mills' recovery plan Thursday in a brief letter signed by the commissioner of education, Tony Bennett.

Mills' plan includes eliminating more than 180 teaching positions, 96 district staff positions, the addition of seven new leadership positions, such as a budget director and an executive director of human resources, the sale of some of the district's vehicles, the closure of Central High School and having a cap for an outsourced school board attorney rather than a full-time in-house attorney.

Mills, deputy superintendent of operations Don Hall and deputy superintendent of instruction Diana Greene held a conference call with the Florida Department of Education on Thursday to go over the financial recovery plan line by line.

"The state felt comfortable that this had been well

thought out," Hall said.

If the state had not approved the plan or had deemed it insufficient, the school district would have faced a state takeover.

Moving forward, the school district administrators will do everything they can to ensure that the requirements are satisfied next year, Hall said

Hall said senior staff will be looking at every process in the district to see where they can reduce costs.

"We will be putting a tighter rein on total overtime in the district," Hall said. "It will be a target for tighter control to save money, even though we did not put it in our recovery plan."

School board Chairwoman Karen Carpenter said the state approved the district's financial plan because it "accepted the brutal facts."

The school district had the option to aim for a 2.2 percent reserve, which would be around $6 million, but Carpenter said they wanted to show a more serious commitment toward financial recovery.

"We didn't try to fool around," Carpenter said.

"This is a critical and urgent matter. We have to fix these problems."

Hall said the state will put the district under extreme control options if they do not reach the minimum requirement for their reserves next year.

"It depends by how much under we are," Hall said. He added that the state would look more harshly on the district if it only has $1 million in reserves, as opposed to $10 million.

Carpenter hopes to never see a state takeover.

"I don't know what is involved, and I don't wanna know," Carpenter said. "It's much better that we have local control."

Hall said he is "very confident" that the district will not have an issue meeting state requirements next year.

"As long as we follow the plan as outlined we are going to meet goals while sustaining quality educational programs," Hall said.

Hall said that some decisions in the financial recovery plan were difficult to make.

"They were all very difficult choices, especially when related to staffing," Hall said.

But other choices, such as turning up the thermostat to 77 degrees in school buildings, were easier to make.

"Turning up the thermostat provides a cost savings of about $500,00 so it is worth it to the district," Hall said. "There are operational steps you take, just like you do in your home."

Carpenter said that she is also confident in Mills' plan.

"We were not well managed and were not responsible," Carpenter said. "We will monitor this plan at least monthly, and we will be more disciplined."

Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.

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