In response to the April 20, 2011, editorial, “School Board on right path,” I voted “no” on this issue for two reasons.
First is that either a “yes” or “no” vote locked the Manatee County School Board into moving forward on a three-year insurance repayment plan. The Florida statutes require a balanced budget and we do not have that in place when we carry debt. We also have not filed the insurance plan each year as required by law for self-insured funds and we are required to have a reserve fund for the self-funded insurance plan which is not in place.
Last September, the previous board voted to move forward on a three-year payment plan for the deficit based on increasing premiums. These projections were based on consultant reports, which were contracted by the superintendent and with the parameters and information provided by the superintendent. We have not had an independent audit of the present plan and what would be required to bring us to compliance, and we have not compared what is available in the non-self-insured types of plans.
In December, we received a report from the Auditor General of Florida warning of the deficiencies and immediate compliance and remedies required to which we have not adhered. Since this report came after the vote of a previous board, I requested an agenda item to allow each board member to be on record and requested a workshop on insurance to best understand the situation we are in and the options available.
Second, because we are not allowed by law to enter into deficit spending, delaying the paying of premiums only increases the present deficit and again, we are not allowed by law to do this.
For years, board members have relied on the presentations of the superintendent and the opinion of the school board attorney. I am not sure who has informed the board that it is OK to do what has been done, but in checking with the Department of Insurance, Department of Education and Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, who has served on school boards and is our current senator on Education Committees, not one agrees with what we have done in Manatee County and all have warned me that as an elected official, I am personally liable for any malfeasance.
Manatee is the only county in the state that has a self-funded insurance plan that is not funded and not valid and not filed each year with the state and running in a deficit of close to $10 million. That is not only illegal but also is the definition of malfeasance and can cause elected officials to be removed from office and face trial and jail if convicted. It also causes the district to be placed into a receivership by the state, which comes at additional costs to taxpayers, not to mention the disruption to the district.
In closing, the employer, the school district, has a fiduciary responsibility to provide the benefit of health care and what has been lacking in the past few years is a review of plans which might bring these benefits at lower cost to employees and tax payers. We should always use funds wisely and in a time of decreasing funds we owe the staff and taxpayers the options of the best plans that work in our present budget, and we have not done so to date.
Thank you for the information printed on this topic. It has been an issue for four years, and there is a board in place that understands action is required. I am not sure if we all agree on what that action should be, but we will be working on this as we move through the budget process in these next weeks. My position is to have this solved in one year and to reduce spending and for a reduction in non-instructional staff as indicated by the Budget Committee Report.
Julie Aranibar is a Lakewood Ranch resident and a member of the Manatee County School Board.
Currently 2 Responses
- You know Tom, Julie's available. The only reasoning behind your "nose of her butt" response is clearly some infatuation with the lady. I say Go for it. Maybe then you'l speak intelligently and not from parts unknown.
- Well said Julie. Your candor and knowledge is a real asset to the board. Bowen (the board attorney) has given all sorts of bad advice to the board for years including recently his meaningless and flawed opinion letter wherein he assures the board that they do not face any liability for the deficits that the board has allowed for years - even though state law and statute on this point is clear. There is personal liability and the potential for the governor to remove board members explicitly referenced in state law cited by Bowen. Bowen's transparent defense seems to be that board members relied on consultant reports and should therefore not be liable. The reality is that any judge applies standards of reasonableness and such a defense does not pass the smell test. It won't be hard to prove that the board knew exactly what it was doing in continuing deficits for years. So, a meangless opinion letter won't do board members any good and they (not Bowen) are liable and at risk. Bowen has also advised the board (on the record) that the Auditor General's critical comments were just an "opinion" and so (in effect) the board does not have to take his findings too seriously. This is the same attorney who convinced the board it was necessary to engae the district in a long and very expensive series of lawsuits to prevent the parents of an autistic child from having their their child evaluated in class. Naturally, Bowen lost the case and the district was forced to pay a settlement and several hundred thousand dollars of outside legal costs. The worst part is that our school department should never treat the parents of any child this way and force them to go to court just to get a necessary evaluation of their child.
While I believe Bowen should be replaced immediately, note that superintendent McGonegal (who is a CPA and who was formerly CFO of the district) has publicly acknowledged his responsibilty for the deficit fiasco, stating that he will "take the bullet." That means nothing since the board has given him a free pass and there seems to be no consequence for his presiding over a longstanding and illegal deficit. Of course, in the private sector, he and Bowen would have been fired some time ago.
The level of fiscal mismanagement evident surrourounding lomngstanding deficits in excess of $12 million (when worker's compensation and healthcare are combined) is embarrassing. We need the board to act decisively to remedy this deficit and get the financial affairs of MCSD in order so that the board can focus on improving education. Superintendent McGonegal has publickly acknowledged that MCSD in in the bottom quarter of Florida communities in standardized test scores and that Florida is in the bottom quarter of states.
Our kids deserve better. The superintendent and the board attorney work for the board. Parents and taxpayers of Manatee County elected the board to provide the best possible education for our children. This deficit issue would never have been brought to light absent the determined efforts of new board member Julie Aranibar. Likewise, the other new member, Karen Carpenter , has been clear that she will insist that this deficit is resolved immediately. Chairman Gause, Mr. Kinan, and Ms. Harvey need to cooperate to get this deficit resolved without further delay.
MCSD is no an adult employment agency. The priority is the best education of our children. Given the materially flawed performance of Bowen and McGonegal, the board should ask each to resign so that MCSD can find the new leadership necessary if we are ever to to get and keep our fiscal house in order and move on to materially improve education.
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