BRADENTON -- Several hundred people turned out Tuesday night to oppose selling Jessie P. Miller Elementary School's McKelvey Park and listen to Superintendent Rick Mills.
Although the district has made giant strides in repairing a multimillion-dollar deficit in 2012, it faces lingering consequences from overspending by $38 million between 2009 and 2013, Mills said.
Consequences include a potential $10 million fine from the state and possible takeover of the district by the state, Mills said.
A $10 million fine would wipe out the $8.2 million surplus district officials anticipate this year, Mills said.
Mills said the district has looked at any surplus property that could be sold for deficit reduction, including McKelvey Park, and whether to put the district's Manatee Avenue administration building on the block.
Mills said the district also reached out to state Sen. Bill Galvano and state Reps. Jim Boyd and Greg Steube to intercede with the state on behalf of the school district.
Options Mills presented at the forum for the park:
1. Retain McKelvey as it is.
2. Sell a portion of McKelvey.
3. Sell all 3 acres to the county or city, which would continue to operate it as a park.
4. Sell all 3 acres to a developer.
Mills said he favors option two or three.
Bradenton City Councilman Gene Gallo told Mills, however, the city is unlikely to buy the property.
"We're pretty strapped," Gallo said, urging the school board to raise taxes if needed for a long-term solution.
"You have a blood-letting in this budget that must be fixed," Gallo said.
Mills later said he believes the district does need a sales tax extension and property tax increase to address its long-term finances.
Many at the forum said they appreciated Mill's explanation of district financial issues but urged looking elsewhere for a fix.
Tom Sprenger, a former school board member, urged Mills to save the park, saying: "Once it's gone, you'll never get it back."
Don Wright, a retired teacher, said if the state does not impose a $10 million fine, and there is no assurance it will, McKelvey Park would have been sold for nothing.
"It does not compute to me," Wright said.
Mills said he has no intention of bringing the sale of McKelvey Park to the Manatee School Board anytime soon, and the district will know soon enough what kind of fine it faces.
School board member Dave "Watchdog" Miner was one of the last to address Mills, calling the proposed sale of McKelvey Park a distraction and nonstarter.
Mills closed by saying the school district was in total chaos a year ago, and the foundation has now been laid for a great school district.
James A. Jones Jr., Herald reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter @jajones1.