The positive messages Diana Greene continues to deliver bear repeating. After her appointment as the superintendent of the Manatee County School District, her very first public appearance in June put a spotlight on essential elements to progress: unity in the community and trust in leadership as well as healing from past troubles.
In two August public appearances, Greene also asked for collaboration with community leaders at a Manatee Chamber of Commerce event and cited stability and peace within the district at a Bradenton Kiwanis luncheon.
While political sideshows from the school board continue to distract the public's attention away from the district's education mission, Greene's commitment to student achievement and teacher success rightfully remains her focus. Her career strength as an educator can be seen again and again as she talks of shaping children into productive young men and women and "aiming higher" on student achievement.
The district cannot escape the past, but neither can administrators and school board members allow the past to haunt the future. While issues persist, they cannot dominate the conversation away from education.
The district's ongoing recovery from past financial mismanagement and budget disasters is remarkable given the magnitude of the challenges. Still, several so-called distractions require further investigation -- that is, a full accounting into the expenditures of millions in sales tax revenues during a school building binge years ago. One audit found money wrongly diverted to projects and other expenses not outlined in the 2009 bond issue.
But the past cannot be rewritten, and Greene wants the community to march ahead with her. "I believe even in the midst of storm, if you keep the compass, when it calms down you'll know the right direction. I believe we are in the midst of getting to that calmness," she told the Kiwanis gathering.
That stability, she continued, will come with another balanced budget, which several years ago was a financial mirage that evaporated when exposed.
As the school year concludes its second week under her first academic year as superintendent, Greene's spot-on message on an education focus should resonate across the community and build support for future endeavors. As she astutely told the chamber, the county's future success depends on the school district's achievements.
Her speeches rank as a welcome rallying cry for a once beleaguered school district now on the mend. Her composed and straightforward leadership lends confidence that the district's ship is sailing in the right direction.
There are stiff winds ahead as the district grapples with overcrowding in many schools and winning voter acceptance of the renewal of the half-cent sales tax for capital expenditures, set to expire in 2017 -- and a possible referendum on a property tax increase for operating costs.
The district's financial staff estimates those operating expenses will exceed revenues by some $62 million annually over the next four years while a 1-mill property-tax increase would cover that budget imbalance. With a tax-averse electorate, Greene will be challenged to sell this to voters should the district follow this course.
With an annual budget in excess of $600 million, some 6,000 employees and around 48,000 students, Greene is the chief executive of the county's largest organization and her responsibilties to the community are great. Her education-first message cannot be overstated in her public relations efforts.