News Section: Schools and Education
Fallout at School Board Meeting as Budget Shortfall Dominates Discussion
BRADENTON -- In the aftermath of the announcement of Superintendent Tim McGonegal's immediate resignation, as well as last week's acknowledgment of a $3.4 million budget deficit, much of Monday's board meeting and public budget hearing was spent discussing the shortfall, and how to proceed in the wake of a freshly resigned superintendant. Inevitably, blame for the financial debacle was given to board members as well as to the board's finance committee. A proposal to conduct an audit into the 2012 - 2013 budget was brought up, and the board will hold an executive meeting on Thursday with audit committee members to discuss the appointment of an outside firm to perform the investigation.
After the announcement of Mr. McGonegal's resignation, and following unanimously passed motions to both accept the resignation and promote Assistant Superintendant Bob Gagnon to interim superintendant for at least two weeks, much time was allotted to board members, teachers, citizens and others; many of whom vented, blamed, and generally expressed outrage and confoundment over the budget deficit, which though Dr. McGonegal has admitted he knew about in early August, was only announced to the public and other board members on Saturday.
Mr. Gagnon said he supported the board's recommendation that an independent audit be conducted, and for him to consider being interim superintendant, he wanted a comprehensive and independent audit of the 2012 - 2013 budget. Board member Robert Gause recommended bringing in the board's current audit committee in helping to pick an outside audit firm. Board member Julie Aranibar expressed her disagreement with Gause's proposal, saying that the appointed audit firm should not be recommended by anyone currently working for the school district. Gause then expounded on his statement, saying the reason why he recommended the committee is because they have qualified accountants. Board Chair Harry Kinnan announced that the board would reach out to the audit committee members the same evening for the purpose of scheduling an emergency meeting during the same week.
During public comments, Dave "Watchdog" Miner and other commenters also expressed opposition to the current audit committee being involved in appointing an auditor. Some board members also expressed their frustrations. Board member Karen Carpenter stated she had no confidence in the numbers or the reports of the board's finance department. "We should not allow them to be here. How much more damage can they do?" she said. Both Miner and Linda Schaich, Gause's opponent in the 2012 primary, raised questions about the timing of the admittance of the budget shortfall in light of the recent re-election of Mr. Gause.
Several more commenters criticized the board for presiding over the debacle, and some also questioned the timing of the recent acknowledgment of the shortfall. A suggestion for an "efficiency audit" was made, as concerns were raised about the current potential vulnerability of electronic records that may otherwise turn up in the proposed audit. Mr. Gagnon advised that he would look into locking down all of the school district's electronic records with board attorney John Bowen.
Throughout the six-hour long meeting, platitudes about moving forward were offered, and board members agreed on the urgency of conducting a thorough audit as well as discussing how to better safeguard the district's financial assets in the future. Mr. Kinnan announced that an executive session would be held on Thursday, September 13 at 5:00 p.m., "to talk about the implications of the budget shortfall on both collective bargaining and other facets of our budget."
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