Mannix About Manatee: Avoiding predecessor's mistakes paramount for Manatee schools Superintendent Rick Mills

July 28, 2013 

There are two interesting photos among the pie charts and data tables in the proposed Manatee School District budget summary.

One shows forest firefighters digging a fireline.

Next to it, yellow crime scene tape before a wall of flames warns: FIRE LINE DO NOT CROSS.

They symbolize the countermeasures built into the district's revamped budget process to avoid a repeat of what new superintendent Rick Mills called "a culture of rampant, unchecked spending" that brought down the previous administration.

All right.

But the photos are also a metaphor for what will happen if Team Mills doesn't get this budget business right and get the community on board, too.

Giving school board members incomplete information at the 11th hour for last Thursday's special meeting to begin discussing the proposed budget is not a persuasive start.

Especially with the board expected to vote Monday on a tentative budget and approve a millage rate to bring in increased tax revenue.

Michael Boyer, the chief financial officer, called the complex process of formulating the proposed budget "excruciating."

Its priorities include:

• Meeting the state required fund balance, or reserve, of $10.3 million by the end of 2013-14.

• Paying off the projected deficit from fiscal year 2012-13.

• Reinvesting in district employees with pay raises.

• Repaying a portion of internal funds donated by schools.

So do we give a mulligan?

That the district's new leadership got a late start due to the unmitigated financial mess it inherited is a given.

So is the fact Mills, who just marked 100 days on the job this month, needed time to assemble his team.

Yet with the school year about to start, it's natural

to wonder where we stand on this issue.

School board members do, too.

They've not had any budget workshops.

They've had no input on item priorities.

Before last Thursday's meeting, school board member Dave "Watchdog" Miner was concerned about having to take up discussions on Monday's proposedmillage rate vote with-out having all the pertinent facts on a timely basis.

It was a chronic issue between the board and the past district leadership.

Deja vu all over again?

Better not be.

Mills is too savvy to repeat the mistakesthat doomed his predecessor.

Besides the need to bring board membersup to speed, two extra public meetings --more than the statemandates -- will beheld before the budgetis finally adopted onSept. 9.

"I want to make it clear ...," Mills wrote in a districtwide letter last Thursday. "It is important we inform the public of our budget."

It is, indeed.

Or else.

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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