The East County Observer looks back on the year's top stories.
EAST COUNTY — True to the form shown in his first five weeks on the job, Manatee Schools Superintendent Rick Mills posted a detailed, data-driven and aggressive action plan to fix the broken budget process to the district’s website.
The 20-page plan has been posted since April 12, and calls for the reinstitution of a formerly disassembled sales tax accountability committee.
The committee, a team of 10 the school board will nominate, serves as a support team to fix problems such as the misuse of construction funds related to the district’s new Manatee Technical Institute campus and sales tax revenue.
In his step-by-step plan, Mills holds specific administrators accountable to lead specific tasks and provides firm deadlines for each to meet.
The plan addresses the latest external audit of Manatee County finances, conducted by Mauldin and Jenkins, which revealed its findings to the school board in a workshop earlier this month.
Mauldin and Jenkins, following a similar audit looking into the $3.4 million deficit from 2011-12 by global consulting firm Navigant, found the district mishandled state and federal funds such as Title I grants for disadvantaged students and special education funds.
It also found the district wasn’t contributing enough money for its workers’ compensation obligation.
Mills met with his senior leadership team — including chief financial officer Michael Boyer — twice the week of April 8, for two hours each meeting to finalize the action plan.
In those meetings, the team talked about tweaking workers’ compensation levels, because the district has to refund the federal government $824,000 for overcharging workers compensation contributions. Employee rates were too low.
The district also must come to an agreement by June with the Florida Department of Education about a repayment schedule and amount owed to the state for certain items found in the audit.
For example, the district must refund misused sales tax money to the state.
The plans also calls for the creation of a “Performance Dashboard,” a one-page report to monitor the district’s financial stability, ranking in the state and student success.
“The plan has strict timelines and shows exactly who is in support,” Mills said. “We need to have collaborative discussions so everyone knows we are taking ownership of this.”
Mills said Boyer will hold monthly meetings to track the plan’s progress.
+ Senior leadership reshuffling continues
A finalist for the Manatee County Schools superintendent job that eventually went to Rick Mills will now work for him.
The school board approved former Marion County Deputy Superintendent Diana Greene, who earned two votes from the school board for the top job in February, and Don Hall, who worked with Mills as chief financial officer of Minneapolis Public Schools, as deputy superintendents.
Mills had recommended the school board approve the two appointments.
Greene, the former leader of curriculum in Marion County, will lead academics and instruction for the district while Hall will head operations.
Both will make $132,500 annually.
+ State transition team in town
The state has sent 13 education experts to Manatee County this week to come up with an economic recovery plan to solve the district’s process and organizational issues that led to a 2011-12 $3.4 million budget deficit.
The transition team, headed by Bill Vogel, who assisted the Citizens Advisory Group this year and briefly served as Manatee’s interim superintendent, arrived April 21, to begin evaluating staffing and human resources, business and finance, teaching and learning and technology issues.
The team’s schedule included meeting with Mills, the school board and the Citizens Advisory Group; visiting schools; and interviewing department heads.
Team members will help the district find ways to cut costs to build a state minimum 2.2% reserve balance — or $6.3 million — before the end of the budget year June 30.
The team will depart April 26, and have a report by the first of June.
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