Few districts faced as many issues during the past school year as Manatee County.
Superintendent Tim McGonegal resigned in September, shortly after the school district learned accounting problems meant a multi-million budget shortfall.
Since then the school district and its board have tried to figure out what happened, how the problem grew so large and stayed undetected. The district has also tried to pick up the pieces and right the ship under new leadership.
We’ve been asking Florida teachers, students and others what they learned during the school year now wrapping up. We asked the same question of Julie Aranibar, who chairs the Manatee County School Board’s budget committee.
Below are excerpts of the interview:
“The biggest lesson that I personally have learned is what accountability means. And what transparency means. And having the correct information.
“We just came out of a season where we had a superintendent that did not keep us informed and we didn’t have correct information, even when we asked for it.
“I started my term in 2010. The numbers that I had, that I was reviewing, didn’t add up. And when I would ask questions or for documentation I was considered a bad board member because I wasn’t going along and I wasn’t being a good team member.
“A lot of the information I have that I was able to use, actually came to me via the CAFR (comprehensive annual financial report), which is a report that went to the state…It didn’t add up. There were big questions of some of the things we had deficits in – that we now know we have deficits in. And we’re continuing to find things.
“We had a budget committee and that was disbanded. And we had a sales tax accountability committee. And there were questions being raised. When people are asking questions it doesn’t mean they are bad people.
“At one of the Florida School Board Association meetings we go through some training for vice chair and chair. I’m sitting in that meeting and the first question that they tell you, when you become chair of the school board, the first thing that you do is that you authorize your electronic signature that goes on to checks and documents.
“The question was asked ‘How many of you in this room have ever seen the actual bank account statement?’ Two hands went up.
“You’re responsible for what’s in there.
“Had we had first-hand knowledge of what was in our bank account, we would have seen that we didn’t have the reserve that our superintendent told us we had.
“So there were things like that as I sit here today and look back, I would never sign off on a budget — I voted ‘no.’ And it was not a popular thing.
“But we never had a line item budget. We should be able to see every line item of what is spent…That would be really helpful in Manatee County. And by the time we finish this process it will be that transparent.”