Manatee County faces huge fines, budget shortfall

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MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. -- "Together we will restore this district’s greatness," said an emotional Rick Mills, superintendent of schools, addressing the community about the latest setback for the Manatee County School District. The district has been ordered to pay a sizable penalty by the state after failing to meet Florida’s budget guidelines.

According to a state statute, all school districts must have 3 percent of their overall budget in their general fund at the end of the school year. That figure is about $10 million for Manatee County. The state penalty will leave the district with just one million in their general fund, $9 million short of the total needed to meet the state requirement.

"In total, the restoration cost assessment against Manatee County School District's general fund in this school year amounts to $7 million," Mills said.

Despite the bad news, board officials say they are proud of the improvements made this school year, because at the beginning of term the district was running a multi-million dollar deficit.

“We were over $8 million in deficit and turned it around to $8 million plus, so we had a turnaround of $17 million dollars and that has never happened previously," said school board chair Juile Aranibar. “So it’s hard in a way because we've worked so hard and accomplished so much.”

Although the $7 million dollars assessment is being taking out of the current budget, the financial discrepancies that caused the fine occurred between 2005 and 2012 – leading current board members to place the blame at the feet of the pervious administration.

"It’s sad that board followed the advice of an attorney and a superintendent instead of the state auditor general's office and the state department of education … and there’s an accountability for this superintendent, who didn't do a single thing to create this but he came here to fix it," said Aranibar.

And to fix it, Mills says he will be exploring all options -- including cuts.

"I want to say to all our employees and the entire community: We will prevail, just as we prevailed over previous challenges this school year," Mills said.