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East County Wednesday, May. 8, 2013 4 years ago

Mills freezes all school spending

by: Josh Siegel Staff Writer

EAST COUNTY — Two weeks after announcing the district will have virtually no fund balance at the end of the fiscal year, Superintendent Rick Mills announced the Manatee County School District has frozen all spending until July 1.

A memo Mills sent to school board members and district employees said all spending that is not a statutory requirement for safety and health has been eliminated through June.

Any spending the district finds to be unnecessary will come out of staff salaries.

Angela Fraser, district finance director, must approve principal or teacher spending requests, which should include the reason for the purchase, cost and the order number.

The memo says no new contracts or purchase orders will be allowed. District purchase cards — credit cards given to principals — will be zeroed out.

On March 1, spending from district credit cards had been reduced by 80%.

Mills also re-emphasized a freeze on hiring — an order he already made Feb. 28.

“I’m not surprised (Mills) is doing these things,” said Julie Aranibar, school board member. “He has to make these decisions. We can’t have principals who don’t follow accounting practices. Some principals have done a wonderful job with that over the years but, for others, it’s the same story every year.”

Until the end of the fiscal year June 30, schools can only spend from internal funding, accounts such as athletic department funds, after-school program money, vending machine revenue, lost or damaged books money and revenue from school pictures and yearbooks.

That money will be limited as well, though.

On April 2, Mills asked school leaders to provide excess funds from their individual school accounts to trim up to $1 million of the deficit. All non-contracted hourly positions have been cut since February. All overtime has been eliminated, with the exception of emergencies documented with an approval form.

Only Mills can approve exceptions.

Any district employee who disobeys these orders and spends outside of what’s required will be billed, and the money will come out of his or her salary.

The departments from which that spending came will also have their budgets reduced for the 2013-14 fiscal year.

They will have to explain their actions to Mills.

“Some say the budget is not education, but it’s the budget that provides for education and services,” Aranibar said. “We need to put in accounting practices immediately so we can get back to educating children.”

The moves come after a state transition team — experts from the Florida Department of Education gave the Florida Association of District Superintendents — came to Manatee County in late April and confirmed what Mills already knew; the school district is struggling to find the $6.7 million — 2.2% — needed in reserves.

State law requires a 3% reserve — or  $10 million for Manatee County.The state gave Manatee County an exception and approved a 2.2% reserve for this fiscal year.

But that number now is near zero.

In the coming weeks, the district must write to the state Department of Education commissioner explaining why it won’t meet its reserves for the third consecutive year.

Contact Josh Siegel at [email protected].

Mental-health screenings in schools considered
Manatee Glens President Mary Ruiz wants students to receive mental-health screenings in Manatee County Schools, and Superintendent Rick Mills is right behind her.

Mills wants to charter a task force to identify funding and a strategy to implement the program. A draft of the charter will be presented at the next CEO roundtable meeting.

In Ruiz’s plan, the screenings would be administered by questionnaire when children enter kindergarten, first grade, middle school and high school.

Parents are notified before the screenings and debriefed afterward — if the answers to the questions reveal a problem.

Then, the school will recommend to parents further assessment by a counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist.
Ruiz also wants to train community members to spot mental-health problems. Individuals interested in the program can learn by visiting

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