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Manatee Schools image makeover starts with soup

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Posted: Wednesday, May 1, 2013 4:55 pm | Updated: 11:20 pm, Thu May 16, 2013.

MANATEE COUNTY - Some may say that trust and confidence aren't normally on the menu at the Manatee County School District. But that's something Superintendent Rick Mills was hoping to change, ladle by ladle, during Wednesday's "Soup with the Supe" event, during which Mills served soup and salad during a question and answer lunch.

"It's very important to get your community behind you in the education process," said Mills.

Not just getting community support, but in Mills' case, getting it back.  "There's not a lot of confidence as far as the county goes in parents or taxpayers eyes at this point," said parent Bridget Mendel.

In the past several months that frustration has been boiling over. Mills says any path forward starts with a conversation.

"We have a real challenge around transparency and trust and so very much part of my plan moving forward as the superintendent is to rebuild that trust around transparency and honesty and candid, ethical leadership," said Mills.

Dishing out soup was the easy part for Mills, who also took questions from frustrated parents.

"We're losing teachers, we're losing aides, we're losing janitorial staff," said Mendel, "there are schools with many, many empty seats and it's gone on for one too many years and our budgetary issues are a mess."

And while Mills' answers to those concerns may not have painted a rosy picture of the district, they did seem to show honesty and optimism.

"We have some challenges this year bringing in a balanced budget as well as meeting our fund balance of 2.2 percent that we insured the state we would," said Mills, "we're not going to meet that, we're not going to be close to that, but we're going to get healthy and better on how we do fiscal management and discipline and put those processes in place."

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