State considers Manatee County School District probe request

After phone call between Superintendent Mills and the Inspector General, an investigation is yet to be opened

eearl@bradenton.comMarch 13, 2014 

MANATEE -- Superintendent Rick Mills is pressing the state Inspector General to look into past Manatee County School District administrators for possible malfeasance but the state is not jumping to open an investigation.

Mills, acting School Board Chairman Dave "Watchdog" Miner and other school district leaders spoke by phone Wednesday with Inspector General Mike Blackburn of the Florida Department of Education about investigating past financial practices of the district, as well as possible misconduct by school board members.

Mills said he is concerned about the deficit prior administrators left behind, as well as $10 million in questioned costs after the recent Auditor General's audit report, which listed 42 findings of operational and federal finance deficits through June 30, 2013.

Blackburn asked the district to list all allegations of fraud, waste and abuse related to potential policy or statute violations, Mills said Wednesday.

"We had a 45-minute discussion with the Inspector General in which we explained the justification and rational for our request for an investigation," Mills said in a press release. "I believe we made a case that the fallout from the financial calamity that devastated this school district has left (an) open wound in our community that must be addressed. Inspector General Blackburn stated he would review the list submitted with Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, who will ultimately decide if an investigation is warranted."

Julie Aranibar, chairwoman of the Manatee County School Board, said she supports an investigation of school board members during former Superintendent Tim McGonegal's administration. Aranibar was on the board during McGonegal's term.

"I think everyone should be asked the questions and it should be on the record," Aranibar said Wednesday. "The important thing about all of this is we are the only county in the entire state that has ever been in this situation. The state Legislature is not looking to make a lot of laws about this, but its interest is to ensure this never happens again."

If malfeasance and misconduct are found, the district may file charges or bring a civil suit.

The state does not have a timeline to decide on whether to conduct an investigation.

Tiffany Cowie, Florida Department of Education spokeswoman, said if the state decides to investigate it will publish the findings.

What happens once results are published will be up to the Manatee County School District, according to Cowie, who said the state does not decide penalties.

Calls late Wednesday afternoon to Blackburn, Cowie and the Inspector General's office were not returned.

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

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