Students return amid Manatee mess

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BRADENTON, Fla. - Monday is Day One of a brand new school year at Braden River High School, and students returned complete with the first day jitters right alongside them.

"Just being around everyone is scary, because everyone is taller and bigger than you," said freshman Lora Pagington.

And there was also the excitement of getting back to the books

"Seeing all my friends, I like my new schedule, and everything," said Junior Alyssa Dispro.  "It's really really exciting to be back."

School officials are also trying to paint an optimistic picture, given the seemingly endless string of problems hammering the district.

"We're a district on the move," said Superintendent Rick Mills, "a lot of transformation, a lot of change [and] we're moving in a great and necessary direction to make this school district as great as it once was."

District officials face a long line of problems, including budget shortfalls, teacher layoffs, and now four administrators charged with felonies stemming from the investigation of former coach Rod Frazier. Mills says the district won't compromise on education while dealing with these problems.

"We've identified them, we've put them out there, we're moving forward," said Mills, "we're making changes, we're putting systems and structures in place particularly at the district office to better support our schools."

And as students get to work on making the grade, district officials know that they too have a lot of work ahead.

"I'm very proud of the district and the team in the district and the resilience in handling and dealing with some of the situations and challenges that we had," said Mills.

Some parents say the district’s multitude of problems have them on edge. "It makes me nervous, and I don't like the budget cuts. I don’t think that's the parents fault, or even the children's fault that these cuts are going on, so I don’t think it's fair."

Others say while the problems are unnerving, they think things are heading in the right direction. "I think that they have everything really under control here."

Despite the ongoing woes, students Monday morning seemed optimistic. But some admit they've seen the impact of the problems first hand. "I think it's terrible, because one of my friend’s moms works for the School Board, and she got laid off, and it was hard for her to find another job."

And while a quick fix to the district's ongoing issues is nowhere to be found, some parents say they're keeping an eye on the sunny side. "I’m very hopeful that everything will turn around and we'll see some upswing to the budget and what’s going on within the school system."

"No, they'll work it out. They'll work it out, they usually do."