EAST COUNTY — As more unbudgeted items come across his desk, David Gayler, interim superintendent of Manatee County Schools, is ready to roll up his sleeves.
At a Dec. 4 board workshop, Gayler announced another $7 million of unbudgeted items in the district’s budget, a number that added to the $3.4 million deficit announced in September.
A few days after the meeting, Gayler refused to wonder what caused the deficit, which pushed former Superintendent Tim McGonegal to resign, and, instead, vowed to move forward with the hope that whoever takes over the district in April won’t have to deal with any of it.
“This is a challenge different than any I have experienced,” Gayler said. “The numbers are worse than I expected. Now, the goal is to install a process prior to the new superintendent coming aboard that prevents these things from happening. The new superintendent should start with an open, clean slate. I don’t want them to deal with what I am dealing with. It would be not fair and not wise.”
Until then, Gayler aims to find $2.8 million in savings to fund more unbudgeted items announced last week, such as overtime pay, money for the international baccalaureate program at three schools, busing to athletic events and band uniforms.
Gayler said a 1% bonus promised to staff, totaling $2.5 million, was left out of the budget, while budget estimates for utility bills and payment for unused sick and vacation days are underbudgeted by $1.5 million.
In addition, Gayler revealed no one person was assigned to coordinate full-time equivalent counts, which is used to get money from the state. Instead, the role was spread among schools and departments, which resulted in 17,000 errors and $5 million in lost revenue.
Gayler later helped to recoup much of those losses and fixed the errors.
At the workshop last week, Michael Boyer, chief financial officer for the district, said that a system used to integrate the accounting functions of departments and track the hires and departures of teachers was cut off in 2009. Boyer and Gayler said failure contributed to the deficit, and they speculated the losses were covered somewhat by reserves.
Gayler said he would make up for the losses by cutting from the district’s food-service program and by limiting overtime.
The district won’t implement a proposed $2.5 million in raises for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Supervisory and Managerial Personnel and the Manatee Education Association. Gayler will also meet with department heads to discuss other savings opportunities.
Gayler said he plans to take a closer look at utility expenses and find ways to save there, as well.
He said the group discussed shutting down lights and air during the holidays, helping to gain a few hundred thousand dollars in savings from utilities.
“We are scouring the budget for anything we can cut that doesn’t affect students,” Gayler said. “This is as true as a statement as I can say: The community and the board has been asking, ‘Where is the money?’ When that question is asked, you know you have problems. We have to change the conversation to, ‘How best should we spend the money?’”
To make financial decisions more clear, Gayler wants to install a line-item budget, for which every expense from each department, school and grant is listed, line-by-line, by mid-January.
Board Chairwoman Karen Carpenter said past budgets, spread out in hundreds of pages, were hard to decipher. Still, the board approved them.
“That’s not happening anymore,” Carpenter said. “This is about clarity and completeness.”
New board member Dave Miner, a long-time district critic, believes Gayler is on track to change that.
“Dr. Gayler has really embraced the axiom that we need to be transparent with the budget,” Miner said. “The board will not approve any budget that isn’t understood by us and by the public. Gayler is putting together a template of how every district should be run.”
Gayler left retirement to lift a district that gave him fond memories. In 2001, former Superintendent Dan Nolan hired him as an assistant, a position Gayler held for 10 months.
Now, Gayler, who says he doesn’t regret leaving retirement, wants to turn around a district that once took a chance on him.
“My best work will be moving this board forward,” Gayler said. “I’m here to help so the next superintendent can make this board a priority. I relish the challenge.”
Contact Josh Siegel at email@example.com.
The Manatee County School Board’s citizen advisory group met for the first time Dec. 6, to help find a new superintendent.
The group will meet again at 5 p.m. Dec. 18, at the district administration building, to discuss how they will organize the job of collecting and reading resumes before interviewing and running background checks on the best candidates.
The school board will select the final candidates Jan. 30, based on recommendations from Dr. Wayne Blanton, of the Florida School Boards Association, and the citizen advisory group.
Blanton said 350 candidates have expressed interest in the position. Blanton expects there to be 40 formal applicants in total.
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