MANATEE -- The Manatee County School District has decided not to renew a contract with the YMCA to operate a high school for at-risk youngsters during the 2014-15 school year, both parties announced Thursday.
"I regret to inform you that as of June 30, 2014, our agreement has expired and as Superintendent, I will not be renewing the agreement with Manatee Y Technological High School, located at 1003 63rd Ave. E., Bradenton," said Superintendent Rick Mills in a letter dated Thursday.
The letter was released with a statement from Joseph Brannon, chairman of the Manatee County Family YMCA Board.
"We appreciate the faith you showed in us more than two years ago when the School District asked the YMCA to step in, at the 11th hour, to provide at-risk students a place to go after the closing of the Richard Milburn Academy," he wrote. "We believe the YMCA remains a vital part of the solution, that it makes economic sense, and that we'll continue to be able to come through for these children as we've done before."
Neither party mentioned a highly critical audit report detailing billing irregularities involving the YMCA issued earlier this month by R.B. "Chips" Shore, Manatee County comptroller.
The audit did not mention the school, but an addendum including emailed complaints that triggered the audit did.
The audit findings have been forwarded to the Manatee County Sheriff's Office for investigation.
Reached on the phone Thursday, Mills said the decision was purely financial and based upon a thorough review of all district programs and services. The district expects to save $800,000 a year, he said.
"After candid conversations with representatives from the Manatee YMCA this past Monday, we believe this course of action is right for the students involved, the school district as a whole and our community," the release quoted Mills.
Mills said the district was aware of the YMCA audit but it did not affect the decision. Mills said the district is reviewing all contracts and services.
"We have the necessary infrastructure, the school capacity and capability within our district to meet the needs of these students at a significant cost savings for the district," Mills said.
Mills referenced the Central High School closing last year, saying the district was able to transition those students into other accommodations "without a hitch."
About 200 Manatee Y Technological High School students will be informed of their options and assisted in transitioning to other schools or programs, said Diana Greene, deputy superintendent of instructional services, in a statement.
They will be served by a variety of educational options, including returning to zoned schools, attending a new program at Horizon's Academy, entering adult GED programs or participating in Florida Virtual School's online courses, the release said.
"We have experience in this area because we handled a similar situation last year when Central High School was closed down for budgetary reasons," Greene said. "We are committed to making sure all of our students have access to counseling, mentoring and all services the school district provides to be successful."
School board members Julie Aranibar, Karen Carpenter and Bob Gause could not be reached for comment to discuss the superintendent's decision.
Board member Barbara Harvey said she had no comment on the announcement, but said the superintendent has the right to make such a decision. She said it would "not necessarily" come before the board.
Board member Dave "Watchdog" Miner said it was appropriate for the superintendent to look at the district contract with the Y in light of the audit.
"It was a red flag that suggested a review was appropriate," Miner said, adding the superintendent has discretion to decide whether to review a contract like the one with the Y.
Miner said he'd like to hear more information from the district on how it plans to support the students served at the school.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.