MANATEE COUNTY — The healing process has begun, or so members of the Manatee County School Board hope.
Monday the board approved unanimously actions to lead the district forward through a time of financial crisis and intense public distrust. Board members agreed to ask former Charlotte County Schools Superintendent David Gayler to serve as the district’s interim superintendent and to hire the law firm Trenam Kemker to facilitate an independent audit of the district’s budget.
Manatee County Schools’ former Superintendent Tim McGonegal resigned Sept. 10, three days after revealing the district was facing a $3.4 million deficit because of accounting errors.
Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Bob Gagnon agreed to fill the superintendent role on an interim basis, as long as the board conducted an investigation of the district’s financial situation. He will continue to lead the district until Gayler can begin work, likely in early October, at which time Gagnon will resume his former role.
Gayler, who still must accept the interim post, formerly led the Charlotte County School District as superintendent for eight years and was managing the district when Hurricane Charlie hit in 2004. He served as an assistant superintendent for Manatee County Schools before going to Charlotte County.
“(We need) someone who, walking in, knows our place, knows our people and (can help) heal the community,” School Board member Julie Aranibar said before the vote.
School Board member Barbara Harvey agreed.
“In these critical times, we need someone with a wealth of experience,” she said.
Gagnon has been in his assistant superintendent role for less than a year, and although board members said he was performing well, they felt hiring a more experienced superintendent was important for leading the district forward, especially because Gagnon is maintaining his Teaching and Learning Department responsibilities.
“Mr. Gagnon deserves a lot of credit for helping stabilize where we are,” Board Chairman Harry Kinnan said.
The board also agreed to hire the Florida School Boards Association and its leader, Wayne Blanton, to lead the search for a new permanent superintendent of Manatee County Schools.
The superintendent search is expected to take three to six months.
Public hearings at which the public can provide input for qualities they wish to see in the next superintendent, among other concerns, tentatively are scheduled for Oct. 11, 15 and 16, at Palmetto, Manatee and Braden River high schools, respectively.
Following the suggestion of a citizen-run audit committee, School Board members selected Tampa-based Trenam Kemker to facilitate an audit process for the district.
Leaders said a draft contract and schedule timeline for services would be completed this week.
Trenam Kemker will be responsible for identifying potential auditors, recommending a firm to complete the audit and overseeing the auditing process, including managing questions from auditors.
“The original board direction was to find out how (this financial mistake occurred),” Audit Committee Chairman Jim Toomey said. “If the auditors find there’s more to be looked at, we’re going to chase it. But, if they find out it’s something simple, like a computer error, we’re not going to. We don’t know what the cause is at this point.”
The committee, he said, will continue to meet as often as necessary. It also will be able to veto Trenam Kemker’s choice of auditing firms, if the auditor’s proposed costs are too high.
Following the vote, Gagnon said there are issues concerning the budget that the district can and must address immediately to prepare for the upcoming budget process.
“We do have a lack of procedures in some areas,” he said, noting the district will begin working on procedures for getting timely budget amendments, guiding expenditures of Title 1 funds and for governing position control to ensure employee positions are necessary and on-task. “We need to help (employees) and unite them in good, solid procedures. We’re going to move forward with that in the near future.”
Contact Pam Eubanks at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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