MANATEE COUNTY — At the School Board’s budget adoption hearing Monday night, a new yet, familiar face emerged from behind the placard for Manatee County Schools Superintendent Tim McGonegal.
Bob Gagnon, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning and a former administrator of Lakewood Ranch High School, started the meeting as a substitute for McGonegal during his unexplained absence. But Gagnon ended the meeting as the interim superintendent of Manatee County Public Schools — at least for the next two weeks.
“Bob Gagnon did not ask for this,” School Board Chairman Harry Kinnan said. “He is stepping forward to help this district, and we are appreciative.”
McGonegal, who has served as Manatee County’s superintendent of schools since January 2009, submitted a letter of his immediate resignation Monday afternoon. On Sept. 5, he had announced his retirement, which would have taken effect Feb. 28.
McGonegal’s unexpected resignation also came just days after he recognized publicly that the school district’s financial department had erred in preparing the 2012-13 fiscal year budget, and the district, in fact, is facing a $3.4 million deficit.
Gagnon, an East County resident, learned Monday afternoon, just hours before the School Board meeting started, that he would be recommended by McGonegal to fill the superintendent position. He accepted the interim position Monday night on the conditions the district would move forward immediately with an independent audit of the 2012-2013 fiscal year budget; he be allowed the opportunity to apply for the superintendent position if he desires; and that his job as assistant superintendent of teaching and learning would be protected if another individual is hired to fill the superintendent post.
School Board members also voted to compensate Gagnon with the superintendent’s current salary as he serves in the interim role.
“We’ve got some big issues (we’re facing),” School Board member Bob Gause said. “(Gagnon) has been successful with the district at every position he’s had. We need somebody to provide leadership right now.”
Gagnon will serve as interim superintendent and will continue to do so until another interim superintendent steps in, or possibly until a permanent superintendent is hired.
School Board members indicated they might wish to hire an outside person for the interim superintendent position, to ensure district changes and improvements already made under Gagnon’s watch will continue without interruption. Gagnon’s plan for his department and his interim role will be discussed at the board’s Sept. 24 meeting, Kinnan said.
School Board members are slated to meet with Wayne Blanton, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association, from 3 to 5 p.m. Sept. 18, to start the search for a new superintendent, a process that takes at least four months. Blanton will facilitate the search, as he has done for the last three of Manatee’s superintendents.
Board members said they recognize the new superintendent — as well as the interim superintendent — is coming to the district during a time of crisis, and the district will have to work hard to regain the public’s trust.
News of the $3.4 million deficit came to light last week, although McGonegal said he knew of the error in early August.
In a memo to the School Board dated Sept. 5, McGonegal wrote the deficit could be attributed to the fact that costs for the hiring of 58 teachers to meet the Class Size Amendment, as well as eight teachers for the E Tech Virtual School, were not included in the budget. High school textbooks allocations, about $700,000, also were not budgeted.
Teachers and members of the public crowded into the school board’s meeting chambers, leaving standing room only until past 10 p.m. Monday. They and board members expressed a deep distrust of the district’s financial department and questioned whether the budget numbers presented could be relied upon.
“We have watched program after program (fail),” Nolan Middle School teacher Jason Troop said. “We have watched mismanagement of the budget. I’m asking the board to make sweeping changes.”
The district’s finance department already has put into place a corrective action plan to address the budget shortfall. Some immediate actions included holding vacant positions open and filling school-level, non-instructional positions with substitutes, among others.
Gause raised concerns the budget did not meet the state-mandated requirement to have reserves of at least 3% and asked for time to come up with more proposed cuts.
Board members approved the district’s total millage rate of 7.5890 but agreed to hold off on the final budget adoption so they could try to find other areas to cut to meet the 3% requirement. The budget adoption hearing tentatively is scheduled for 5:45 p.m. Sept. 17 but could possibly happen sooner. The date had not been finalized by press time.
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