Scott Hopes, the recently elected chairman of the School Board of Manatee County, didn’t lose his temper or composure when fellow board member Dave Miner made a motion at the start of Tuesday’s school board meeting to amend the agenda to have a new election for chairman.
Miner said the reason why he wanted a new election just two weeks after Hopes was unanimously elected chairman is because he now believes Hopes misled the board and does not really enthusiastically support the upcoming March 20, 2018 referendum where Manatee voters will be asked to approve a roughly $33 million, one-mill property tax increase that would be used to make Manatee County competitive with Sarasota and other nearby counties for hiring and keeping quality teachers and support staff.
Miner’s motion immediately died for lack of a second.
Asked during a recess later in the lone December board meeting if he was disappointed in Miner, Hopes took the high road.
We are formally opposing and will work to oppose the special election because it has cost $300,000 to put that issue on the ballot. The school district really didn’t have its act together before they put it on the ballot because they gave no reasons for it and we think this whole bank reconciliation issue is indicative of what the superintendent as well as the board has done with finances. Until they can get their act together on these finances, we don’t think the voters should approve that.
Palmetto’s Kenneth Piper, member of Republican Executive Committee
“Mr. Miner and I are working through our relationship and understanding each other’s processes,” Hopes said. “Look. I’ve been on the board for four months. We are limited by the Florida Sunshine Laws to our interactions, and it’s going to take time.”
“I am committed to this referendum,” Hopes added. “I am committed to ensuring that the district has the operating funds necessary to deliver this district to be No. 1 in the state.”
But Miner said he still doesn’t think Hopes is 100 percent behind the special election. Miner said that had his motion passed and a new election been held, that his fellow board member Gina Messenger would be his choice for chairwoman.
“I was hopeful that the board would have said, ‘Thank you Mr. Hopes for your service, but we think that we need someone who has been here in this community longer.’ Not me, but I am talking about Mrs. Messenger, who has been a teacher. She would be the chair and the chief spokesperson for the district in this referendum.
“She’s been dedicated to the referendum,” Miner added. “She appreciates the cost if we don’t have it. We can’t status quo what we have. That would be very injurious to our children. We have four million dollars going down the drain to replace and retrain 80 teachers that we lost. If we could keep those teachers that are going to Pinellas and Sarasota counties, we would have that money available for better uses.”
Miner decided to ask his fellow board members for a re-vote after he and Hopes had attended a recent Republican Executive Committee meeting where, he felt, Hopes did not effectively explain why the district needed the one-mill tax increase and how it would be used.
“In the committee’s resolution they said it had not been explained,” Miner said.
In fact, Kenneth Piper, a retired attorney who lives in Palmetto and is a member of the Republican Executive Committee, spoke to the board during public comment and revealed an entrenched anti-tax viewpoint.
“We are formally opposing and will work to oppose the special election because it has cost $300,000 to put that issue on the ballot,” Piper said. “The school district really didn’t have its act together before they put it on the ballot because they gave no reasons for it and we think this whole bank reconciliation issue is indicative of what the superintendent as well as the board has done with finances. Until they can get their act together on these finances, we don’t think the voters should approve that.”
What Piper was talking about regarding bank reconciliation was revealed in mid-November when board members were blindsided with a report from Susan Agruso, chairwoman of the School Board of Manatee County’s volunteer audit committee, that the district was seven months behind in completing its bank reconciling due to a computer glitch.
At Tuesday’s meeting, however, after Piper spoke, Agruso reported that the school district is just about through October and, by the winter break, everything should be up to date.
“We want to thank the district for attending to this matter and taking care of it,” Agruso added.
Manatee County home builder Pat Neal, who has supported the tax increase but not the March election, walked into the school board meeting shortly after Miner’s coup failed and Hopes introduced him to the public as a member of Hopes’ new volunteer finance committee.
Neal will be part of a team of Manatee leaders who provide financial oversight to the school district.
“These are complex strategies,” Hopes said. “This is a rugged landscape. I’m asking the public to be patient, to be tolerant and to listen. Ask questions. It will become clearer. We are going to be doing a graduate course in public finance in a short period of time.”