News Section: Opinion
Guest Op/Ed: Hiding Manatee School Dollars in Plain Sight
Many of us have played hide-and-seek when we were children, but as we matured we became more sophisticated in hiding. One technique used is to blend into a wall or a piece of furniture, thereby hiding in plain sight. It appears that Manatee School District administrators are using this same technique in hiding budget dollars from board members and citizen committees.
Since the superintendent rarely answers budget questions posed by board members or citizens, he has become adept at hiding our tax dollars in plain sight. A prime example is the “significant” amount of additional dollars poured into the health care deficit which he brazenly refuses to reveal, simply leaving it to sit there unexplained. This practice has continued for many years and will be increasingly devilish to unravel when the day of reckoning – an independent audit – arrives, and arrive it will.
There is a little known report that is put on the School Board agenda each month which is approved blindly with no apparent discussion or explanation. This report, called the Budget Amendments, deserves a closer look. The complex report reveals some very important information.
The Superintendent piles bad information upon bad information in various combinations, so that no one is able to determine how much money the district has, or how it has been or will be spent. For example, the superintendent freely concedes their original budget overestimated benefits (estimated to be around $8 M), but he has been unwilling or unable to explain where this money is, or under which shell it will appear later.
This mysterious budget amendment report shows that we have additional income from undetermined sources in the amount of $6 M. This report is intentionally misleading as the comparison is not with the original budget as approved, but with the prior month, which has already been altered. Add the error in benefits to the additional income in the Budget Amendment Report and you have a total of $14 M which appears to be floating. Since June 30 is the accounting year end, under which shell will this be placed?
Serious consequences arise from playing games with a district’s budget. Hiding and shuffling budget information increase distrust and hamper union negotiations.
The Budget Amendment Report is something that I would never approve without further explanation. For that matter, I would never have approved the original budget with all of the errors and omissions. We need accountability.
Can good decisions and a district we can be proud of spring from compromised information? You do not believe that, and neither do I.
Linda Schaich is a candidate for Manatee County School Board, District 4.
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