BRADENTON – Linda Schaich ran for the Manatee County School Board last month on a very simple premise – the numbers didn't add up and no one in the administration seemed interested in hearing about it. Less than a month later, and after Schaich was defeated in her bid, the district announced Friday that it has “discovered” that there is $8 million dollars less than had been detailed in its budget presentation, turning what had been announced as a surplus into a $3.2 million deficit, which must now be dealt with.
Days before announcing the gap, Manatee Superintendent Tim McGonegal announced that he would be resigning from his position, effective February 28. Though the board's composition is set to change – and possibly quite drastically – after the November 6 runoff election, chair Harry Kinnan has announced that there will be a September 18 meeting to decide how the process of hiring a new Superintendent will take place.
Kinnan, who will be retiring in November, will not be working with the new Superintendent. Dave “Watchdog” Miner, who finished first in the four-way race to replace Kinnan on August 14 by a wide margin, and faces a runoff election with second-place vote-getter Robert Moates on the November 6 ballot, is livid that the process would begin prior to the election.
“It is not important that retiring Mr. Kinnan approve or feel invested in the selection process," argued Miner in an email. "It is important that Mr. Kinnan's successor approve and feel invested in the selection process and bond with the new Superintendent."
Miner said it is unwise for the board to rush in determining the process.
"This is an important juncture in the history of school board," said Miner. "It should be approached in a patient, deliberative manner. Dr. McGonegal is not expected to leave until the end of February which allows three months after the new board member is selected to obtain a replacement. Even if the board has not decided on a permanent replacement at that time, the board could appoint an interim replacement. In fact Dr. McGonegal and Dr. Nolan served first as interim superintendents before being named superintendents."
Miner said the meeting should take place in November, after the seating of Kinnan's replacement.
"The date, time and place should be determined by the board in a collegial manner and not unilaterally by a retiring board member who will not be working with the new superintendent."
The $8 million loss was reportedly caused by a mistake in teachers' salaries and benefits of over $7 million, including failing to include the salaries of 58 teachers added to contend with the class-size amendment in 2011, as well as textbooks and other salary adjustments that were not included.
Board member Julie Aranibar was frustrated that she was not made aware of the budget discovery until it went public. Aranibar, who has often been criticized in her relentless quest for documentation, especially regarding budgetary matters, felt that discovery vindicated her concerns, while worrying how it would impact the morale of teachers, who are still working without a contract.
"I expect there to be fallout among the teachers,” said Aranibar in a phone interview. “They are going to read this news after they've already been told there is no money to pay you what we should, but everyone else has already had their contracts and funds appropriated." Aranibar also noted that the budget committee, which she had previously served on, had been disbanded without notice and never given the opportunity to present their report to the board.
The board will meet Monday and take up a proposed corrective action plan at 5:45 in the school board meeting. The public is welcome to attend and comment.