School district wants investigation into budget shortfalls

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Posted: Friday, March 7, 2014 5:29 pm

BRADENTON, Fla. - Manatee County School District's financial troubles are once again taking the spot light. The district wants another investigation to determine who caused the almost $13 million budget shortfall.

"There have been no consequences at this time," says Pat Barber with the Manatee Education Association, referring to the $38 million of overspending that many say occurred in the school district in the last five years. "The impact of the financial difficulties have been teachers have had their salaries cut and they have not had the supplies they need in the classroom. People want someone to be held accountable for the financial difficulties our school district is in now."

And Barber isn't alone.

Manatee County Schools Superintendent Rick Mills sent a letter to Florida Department of Education's Inspector General, requesting an investigation into the previous administration to determine their role in the district’s financial troubles. ’

The letter highlighted eight points to support the request. Among that list is the overspending of $4.5 million that occurred in 2011-12, and $8.5 million that occurred in 2012-13 school years that resulted in close to a $13 million deficit.

"I am asked by teachers, parents, school district employees, and community members, who will be held accountable for these catastrophic actions? I believe that is a fair and reasonable question. That is why I'm asking for an investigation by the Inspector General," said Mills in a statement.

But not everyone thinks the previous administration is completely to blame.

"It’s my opinion that two of the last three -- some people would say three of the last four -- administrations have taken us in a direction that has not been in the benefit of the school district." Dr. Richard Conard has worked closely with the school district since the 1960's, and he says the financial discrepancy was ignored for a long time. "As long as there was a lot of money in the economy and money was flowing, it was possible for the administrations to camouflage or to alter things in a way where it was not that obvious."

He says during the recession, funding became tight, which aided in the discovery.

But regardless of when the problem started, the consensus seems to be that for credibility to be restored, someone must be held accountable.

"An investigation by the state will bring closure and allow our district to move forward," says Barber.

The Department of Education is expected to respond to the investigation in the coming weeks.

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