Manatee County's interim school superintendent brings vital skills to reeling district

Welcome back to the Manatee County school district, Mr. David Gayler. The hopes of an entire community rest on your shoulders -- hopes of complete administration accountability and transparency as well as collaboration among all the stakeholders in the education of our schoolchildren.

We need an interim superintendent who can start the tall task of rebuilding the public's trust in the school board and administration after years of heated disputes over the direction and priorities of the district -- a district that ultimately and utterly failed with the recent revelation of a big budget deficit caused by unforgiveable accounting blunders. That was swiftly followed by the sudden resignation of your predecessor, Tim McGonegal.

But we're heartened, Mr. Gayler, by statements that your shoulders are broad and strong thanks to your experience at preserving another school district during a time of catastrophe.

As superintendent of Charlotte County schools during the destruction wrought by Hurricane Charley, your leadership prevented further disaster as you secured national funding to maintain employees and salaries.

Our teachers need a life preserver, too.

One of your old Charlotte County colleagues spoke very highly of you to Herald education reporter Katy Bergen after you agreed to become Manatee County's interim superintendent last week. School Board Vice Chairman Lee Swift described one of your attributes that we need here -- your calm, reassuring voice even in the aftermath of a hurricane.

A Category 4 storm has struck here, too, in a political sense.

We're fortunate, Mr. Gayler, that you came out of retirement to accept this challenge. You're familiar with the district, too, having served as Manatee's assistant superintendent in 2001.

Dan Nolan, then Manatee superintendent, hired you at that time. Now retired, the revered Mr. Nolan also commends you for your people skills, that is your ability to negotiate and communicate with an openness that creates a positive atmosphere.

Furthermore, your reputation in collective bargaining with teachers is a huge plus. Manatee Education Association President Pat Barber recalls those negotiations back in 2001 during another budget crisis and limited money, saying you "built trust" with the teachers union. "Everyone came to the table with the spirit of collaboration," Barber recounted in Saturday's Herald report.

That spirit has been missing here as negotiations have reached impasse over the past few years.

Your diplomatic skills will be crucial as you deal with budget and union matters in the coming months.

Mr. Gayler, all this bodes well for a community reeling from the latest daunting developments.

How could the district fail to account for $8 million in spending, causing a $3.5 million deficit? While an independent forensic audit of the 2011-2012 budget should come up with answers, until then the school board faces another delicate task: leading the process to select a permanent superintendent.

The board took several positive steps this week with the announcement of the public's participation through three hearings, the first on Oct. 11 at Braden River High School. The board will also form a Citizens Committee to provide input into the process.

We're eager to see you in action, Mr. Gayler. Obviously, our hopes are high. But all these testimonials bring optimism and confidence. While your stay as interim superintendent may last only six months at most, your accomplishments could set higher standards for a troubled school system.