Manatee County School Board votes to investigate itself

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MANATEE, Fla. -- Last week, we reported that Manatee County school superintendent Rick Mills had requested the state's inspector general further investigate the district's previous administration in order to determine its role in the creation of a two-year budget deficit. For the years 2010 to 2012, the district went close to $13 million over budget.

Now the school board wants to be a part of the investigation, as well.

In a meeting last night, the four school board members in attendance voted unanimously to include the Manatee County School Board in the formal request for further investigation. They would like the inspector general to investigate the prior board members to see what decisions if any played a factor in the running of the deficit.

Out of the five members who make up the Manatee County School Board, only one was elected after the previous superintendent left following the county's financial troubles of 2010-2012. If audited further, these same board members could be responsible for financial errors made on their watch.

"There's always that risk, but I mean I know what I did and I know what I didn't do," says board member Bob Gause, who initially requested the investigation. "So I'm not particularly worried about them investigating me."

Vice chair David Miner has been branded a "watchdog" by the community. Miner was elected in November 2012, and is the only one not part of the previous administration. He believes in the necessity for the board to be transparent and right wrongs.

"Even though I wasn't on the board," Miner says, "I regularly attended school board meetings and acted as a public watchdog."

During Tuesday night's meeting, Superintendent Mills discussed his letter to the state's inspector general, which not only highlights the findings related to the audit of the Manatee School District's finances, but explains the desire to answer the community's questions.

"I am asked regularly by teachers, parents, school district employees and community members, who will be held accountable for these catastrophic actions?" Mills says. "I believe this is a fair and reasonable question. That is why I am asking for an investigation by the inspector general."

The school board wants to move on, learn from its mistakes and focus on education, but they say this must happen first.

"If we're going down this road, then let's make sure that we address any and everything that's out there that could possibly be questioned so that this community can start to move forward," Miner says.

Late this afternoon, Superintendent Mills spoke with the state's inspector general to discuss his letter and the school board's request. Inspector General Mike Blackburn asked clarifying questions regarding the request and asked the district to produce a list of all allegations related to potential policy or statute violations as related to fraud, waste and abuse.

The state will then review the list and decide if an investigation is warranted.