David Gayler takes oath as interim Manatee superintendent

David Gayler took his oath of office as interim superintendent Monday, talked warmly about leaving his wife and young daughter to help a district that once helped him and then spoke plainly to board members.

Trust has been broken with the public, he said. And the board’s reputation for struggling with each other and former superintendent Tim McGonegal has hindered the ability to move forward.

“I want to impress on you the reality,” Gayler said in a calm, controlled voice as he talked to the board about working together. “While we may not agree how to get to a certain place, we have to agree on a certain place. I don’t mean 5-1 or 4-2. I mean 6-0.”

Gayler’s already planned a Nov. 5 training session so he and the board can collaborate to determine priorities for the district. He’s adamant that communication improve, and said he would not immediately set up an email account — people will talk to him in person or by phone.

“You’ve got my cell phone,” he told board members.

Gayler, who served as superintendent of Charlotte County schools from 2002 to 2010 and helped the school district through Hurricane Charley, came out of retirement to take the interim position.

McGonegal resigned Sept. 10 after revealing a $3.5 million budget deficit caused when the district forgot to budget for $8 million of expenses last year.

Before he was Charlotte County superintendent, Gayler worked in Manatee County as assistant superintendent for 10 months, a job then-superintendent Dan Nolan gave him after Gayler’s director of instructional support position was cut in Charlotte County.

Though Gayler said he is eager to learn the school board members’ specific goals for the district, he has some more of his own. He plans to take a look at this year’s budget to see if money can be shifted toward teachers’ salaries or the classroom. He wants to help with the collective bargaining process — he was the district’s chief negotiator when he worked here in 2001 and reached an agreement with the Manatee Education Association, despite a state budget crisis.

He also wants to help with the superintendent search process, though he will stay clear of being involved with the decision, he said.

Gayler set his own March 29 end date partly because he believes it is essential that the next superintendent come in before plans for next year’s curriculum and budget begin.

Gayler believes improving the climate in the district is essential to finding a new superintendent. He said applicants might not want to join a district with a “fractured” board and administrators who seem to lack the support of the community.

Gayler implored the public and educators to call him.

“There are an awful number of employees in this district that are silent right now,” Gayler said. “Light up the lines. Leave a message. I want to hear something from people that support education.”

At the meeting, the board also approved a law firm’s recommendation for a team from the consulting firm Navigant to conduct a forensic audit to determine the cause of this year’s budget shortfall.

An audit committee asked law firm Trenam Kemker last month to pick the agency to instill public confidence in the integrity of the investigation.

Navigant’s $250 an hour rate was the lowest of all the applicants, committee representative Lynn Lineman said. Normally, they are more than $500.

The Navigant team includes Stan Murphy, a damage assessment expert with 22 years of forensic accounting experience and Al Robinson, a CPA and former FBI special agent.

“The reason that I’m so tickled about Navigant is that they are not just numbers people, they see the big picture,” Lineman said. “I think they will come to grips with the issue, figure it out and report back quickly.”

Trenam Kemker associate Brigid Merenda explained that the Navigant team will start immediately, and begin a phased approach where they analyze what information is available and how long an investigation might take.

“We don’t anticipate it just being an audit, it will be a full forensic review,” she said.

Katy Bergen, Herald education reporter, can be reached at 941-7081.