Financially ailing Manatee school district scores education success

December 18, 2013 

Even as the Manatee County school administration continues to struggle with financial troubles after another unsettling state audit report last week, the district enjoyed very good news at the same time. Student performance is improving. Both the graduation and dropout rates are moving in the right directions.

Manatee's graduation rate rose to 76.8 percent for the 2012-2013 school year, a remarkable increase over the 62.5 percent in 2007-2008 and a continuation of annual improvements since then. Plus, the district surpassed the statewide graduation rate of 75.6 percent.

Manatee's dropout rate has now plunged from 4.4 percent in 2007-2008 to 1.6 percent in 2012-2013, another dramatic turnaround. Credit the district's various dropout prevention programs, which include student tracking, intervention and special assistance.

That the district will not rest on this success is noteworthy, too.

According to Mike McCann, supervisor of dropout prevention, educators will be working to continue to improve on both graduation and dropout rates with credit recovery programs and other strategies.

"Teachers are doing a great job with everything that is going on," he told Herald education reporter Erica Earl last week. Yes indeed, teachers deserve the lion's share of the credit.

More budget woes

Even as administrators implemented a financial recovery plan under Superintendent Rick Mills, hired early this year in the wake of a scandalous budget disaster, the district continued to make financial mistakes.

In sifting through the district's 2012-2013 budget, one that Mills inherited, state auditors found inadequate documentation and questionable spending as well as a failure to amend the budget when state funding got reduced.

The Auditor General Office of Florida suggested 33 operational procedures be improved to preclude additional financial errors.

The district has until Jan. 9 to appeal the findings and could face as much as a $1.8 million budget reduction should all aspects of the audit be affirmed.

Moving forward

Superintendent Mills expressed confidence in the district's path to a sound budget. In a statement Thursday, he said:

"These findings, along with previous operational audit findings, give us a detailed account of the areas that need to be addressed by this school district as it relates to the Auditor General.

"Our school district is on the right path to fiscal stability and is committed to absolute transparency in all areas.

"We will work diligently to overcome the costly decisions of the past so we can restore trust and move forward together to the greatness our students and community deserve."

We expect nothing less. And we'll be monitoring the commitment to transparency.

We look forward to the day when district administrators can celebrate the success that students and teachers are now earning.

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