Manatee County 'State of the Schools' address an upbeat affair

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MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. -- Today saw a more upbeat version of the annual “State of the Schools” address in Manatee County. In the past, the event has been marred by difficulties the district faced, but the days of financial trouble may be over.

It was a message of hard work and triumph. Manatee County School District has dealt with some major obstacles over the past several years, including multi-million dollar deficits. But during today’s State of the Schools address, administrators spoke about overcoming those obstacles and what can only be called a miraculous turn around.

"We were closing out the pervious school district school year budget with a financial deficit of 8.9 million dollars," said Manatee County School District Superintendent Rick Mills taking a stroll down memory lane. The district began the 2013 school year with an almost $9 million deficit, but one year later their finances tell a different story

"We had a $27 million-plus turnaround as a school district and we are on solid ground," Mills says.

That solid financial ground includes meeting the state requirement to have 3 percent of their overall budget in reserves -- the first time in 5 years that the district has met the requirement. Manatee closed out the last school year a $10.3 million in its fund balance.

But the district didn't just make financial gains, it has also improved its state ranking by moving from 40th to 37th out of 67 districts.

"We were [rated] a B two years ago, and last year we moved back up to an A,” says Jim Mennes, principal of Freedom Elementary, one of the 24 school which posted ranking gains. , one of the 24 school which posted ranking gains. “We are very proud of the other schools that worked so hard; there are high moments and they are low moments, and I think right now we are definitely on an upswing, and it’s great to be a part of it."

Mennes isn’t alone in this feeling.

"There’s so much momentum with all our schools, to be able to rally around the gains we have made as a district and really start working together collaboratively at the district level to filtrate throughout our schools, it’s just so much excitement that it’s hard to contain," says Latrina Singleton, principal of GD Rodgers Garden Elementary.

And as the excitement for a new school year and the gains made continue, Mills had another message. "It was truly a team effort by the school district during some tremulous times,” he said. “People persevered, they pressed on and moved forward, [I’m] very very proud of our team."