Manatee County school board in tough spot, invites park sale input

April 27, 2014 

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FILE: District school officials had been considering selling McKelvey Park which is often used by students at nearby J.P. Miller Elementary School. Superintendent Rick Mills said he will hold off on any sale for now.GRANT JEFFERIES/Bradenton Herald

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At the last Manatee County school board meeting during public comments, several community members shared their concerns on the possible sale of surplus property owned by the school district adjacent to Miller Elementary.

Superintendent Rick Mills has set a public meeting for Tuesday night to address questions and concerns regarding this property. We are looking forward to working with our community to support the needs of the district and community.

Last summer, the board approved a fiscal recovery plan that included the sale of property that would enable the district to achieve fiscal stability. As of today, we are still not projected to meet state requirements but have had an almost $18 million turnaround in one year.

Mr. Mills arrived here just over a year ago. We had a series of interim superintendents during September to March of 2012-2013.

State auditors sent a team to the district in March and they were here for six months. The findings of 42 deficiencies are detailed in their reports and are available and have been available on our website since the district received the information.

Mr. Mills began making required corrections and establishing a leadership team of qualified, experienced staff immediately.

We are presently facing over $10 million in potential penalties and fines as a result of not following statutes for financial matters and areas of noncompliance.

Last spring the superintendent made teachers and staff a priority. The years preceding his arrival, the budget shortfalls ended up in pay cuts to all staff. This past year we were first to complete negotiations with staff for contracts and pay raises were included. He honored his word.

We had issues with how schools sent invoices to the district, and we have had to realign budgets and accounting of those budgets for each school. We spent a lot of time working through those issues, and he has kept his word on repayment as we realigned these budgets moving forward.

None of the issues we have dealt with have been popular or easy for anyone. The reality is that we must comply with the law and we must manage our district on the funds provided.

It has been heartwarming to read the emails from concerned citizens who are just reading and getting information concerning the financial situation of the district.

Mr. Gene Gallo wrote a letter to the paper telling the school board to not sell the property at Miller Elementary on 43rd and Manatee Avenue West. Mr. Gallo has publicly questioned the district meeting its financial requirements and then on the other hand takes a stand against the possible selling of property that would help us accomplish those requirements.

As recommended by a Bradenton Herald editorial, I'm hoping that Mr. Gallo has requested the city of Bradenton review purchase of this land, which will ensure that the property is housed as a park and not listed on the Board of Education inventory.

That would ensure that this issue would never be revisited for any school board budget.

The question has been asked if the state could take the property in lieu of pending fines as a means to protect the community's interest in preserving a park.

The superintendent has kept his word and been diligent to stabilize our district. He has built a team that is putting the education of our children as our first priority.

With all the resources and support available to us, it is not acceptable to remain in the lowest percentage ranking in the state. I'm looking forward to working with our superintendent and community in moving forward.

The school board has unanimously agreed to support compliance with all laws for education and we are not faced with any easy choices at this time.

Thank you for an opportunity to address this concern and encourage those to attend the community meeting Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at Miller Elementary School.

Julie Aranibar, is the chairs of the Manatee County School Board.

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