McGonegal resigns immediately, Gagnon appointed interim superintendent

MANATEE -- Three days after the district revealed a $3.4 million deficit in their 2012-13 budget, the Manatee County school board announced that superintendent Tim McGonegal has resigned from his position.

“I have been asked to read this letter,” said board Chairman Harry Kinnan before reading a brief letter from McGonegal accepting responsibility for the “unacceptable” financial results of 2011-12. The letter stated that McGonegal will resign from his position as of Sept. 10.

McGonegal appointed Assistant Superintendent Robert Gagnon as interim superintendent.

McGonegal, 54, had announced that he would retire in February this past Wednesday, just two days before the district admitted that it had forgotten to budget, among other things, the salaries for 58 teachers hired last year.

The board will vote at Monday's meeting whether to appoint Gagnon in that position if Gagnon accepts it. McGonegal was not present at the meeting.

School board attorney John Bowen explained that school board business could not proceed while there is a vacancy in the office of superintendent.

The board discussed whether to approve Gagnon or another district official as an interim superintendent, and if that person would be able to apply for the permanent position.

Julie Aranibar expressed a desire to make the necessary appointment to proceed with school board business and suggested looking into appointing a different interim superintendent after meeting with Florida School Boards Association Wayne Blanton, who is hosting a workshop to show school board members their search options next week.

It also remains to be seen whether Gagnon would accept such a position.

Gagnon expressed concerns about the uncertainty of whether he’d be allowed to apply for the position and said that for him to even consider the position he would want to hire an independent auditor to examine the 2012-13 budget and address how the deficit occurred, who knew about it and how to prevent similar situations in the future.

“If we aren’t willing to do that, then I’m not willing to be superintendent for a day,” Gagnon said to crowd applause.

The board recessed for 10 minutes to deliberate on how they wanted to proceed.

A lengthy discussion was held on the role of the interim, whether he’d be a placeholder until other options for an interim superintendent are looked into or whether the interim would be expected to propel the district forward until a permanent replacement is found.

A motion by board member Robert Gause proposed Gagnon as interim superintendent until a permanent superintendent is found. Gagnon would be required to come to the next board meeting with an action plan for the district, as well as a contract that protects him from non-renewal as assistant superintendent.

“He is supported by our teachers,” Gause said. “And right now we need someone who employees feel are fighting for their interests.”

Gagnon seemed set on determining whether or not he’d be allowed to apply for the permanent position if he accepted the interim one.

“I don’t know if I will apply," he said. "But I at least need to have that option.”

Gause then amended his motion to give Gagnon this option, and Kinnan seconded it.

School board member Barbara Harvey worried that appointing Gagnon would deter others from applying if Gagnon made it clear he was applying for the permanent position.

Others seemed hesitant to make a decision without talking to Blanton about their options for moving forward. Once, the motion was amended to allow the board to determine Gagnon’s time as interim superintendent at the next meeting, the board unanimously approved Gagnon as an interim superintendent.

Board members also unanimously accepted McGonegal’s resignation.

The board decided to reach out to the members of the audit committee to organize an emergency public meeting to determine the format for finding an auditor who has not worked with the school district in the past and who can determine how the deficit occurred and what needs to change to prevent it from happening again.

"The selection of the firm is essential," Gagnon said.

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