Manatee School District seeks investigation of ex-Superintendent McGonegal

jajones1@bradenton.comApril 2, 2014 

MANATEE -- Superintendent of Schools Rick Mills and School Board Chairwoman Julie Aranibar have lodged a formal complaint with the state seeking an investigation of school district finances under former Superintendent Tim McGonegal.

The complaint comes more than 18 months after McGonegal abruptly resigned following the disclosure of a $3.4 million budget deficit.

Dated March 21, the complaint is a follow-up to a letter Mills submitted to the state seeking an investigation by the inspector general of the Florida Department of Education.

Requested is "a formal investigation into the alleged financial malfeasance, wrongdoing, waste and mismanagement of material sums of the general fund of the district that are duties and responsibilities of the superintendent."

The complaint concludes a timely investigation is needed to protect all civil claims the district could impose on McGonegal and others found accountable.

As of June 30, the district faced a deficit of $7.5 million in the general fund, according to the complaint.

The school board complaint said this "may constitute malfeasance and gross negligence in multiple areas of the financial reporting."

Also alleged is the violation of a statute that, in part, reads: "signs and transmits to any state official a report that the superintendent knows to be false or incorrect."

Among possible sanctions: forfeiture of salary for one year.

The complaint also alleges violation of the requirement to provide accurate data to the state, improper implementation of the budget, and failure to provide written notification to the school board and state when the general fund balance is projected to fall below 2 percent.

Based on Florida statutes, illegal expenditures or expenditures in excess of appropriations shall be prosecuted through any state attorney, proceedings at law or in equity, according to the allegation.

McGonegal seemed surprised Wednesday the district had formally filed a complaint with the state but declined to weigh in on the controversy.

"I would rather not comment," McGonegal said.

Aranibar was not so reticent. The district decided to seek accountability through the state because there was no appetite to take money away from classroom teachers for legal action, Aranibar said.

"We lack the resources," Aranibar said.

For several years, teachers had to take pay cuts to help keep the district running, she said.

"There is such a huge sense of betrayal and broken trust," Aranibar said.

Now, the district is facing $10 million in fines and penalties, she said.

"We feel like there has to be some level of accountability," she said. "There is no other district in the state that has ever been in this position."

Mills said Wednesday he has been working with the Department of Education to reduce some proposed fees and penalties, while other costs are being integrated into the budget.

McGonegal served as superintendent from Jan. 1, 2009, to Sept. 10, 2012. Prior to that he served as assistant superintendent of business from Feb. 1, 2005, to Dec. 31, 2008, and as executive director of finance from Jan. 2, 2002, to Jan. 31, 2005.

The request for investigation disclosed several persons involved in the school district finance office or management of the district were not interviewed during the investigation of the initial $3.4 million deficit.

"These employees have requested an opportunity to disclose additional information that would be relevant to the requested investigation," according to the March 21, 2014 request submitted to the inspector general.

Mills, who was recruited after the Manatee School District suffered a financial meltdown in 2012, is due for his first annual evaluation in the next several weeks.

James A. Jones Jr., Herald reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter@jajones1.

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