BRADENTON, Fla. - Down at the Manatee School Headquarters, they have been forced to do some serious math. And the guy with the newest nameplate in the School Board meeting room is the one who has to -- as the teacher would say -- show his work.
"It is a challenge," said Superintendent Rick Mills. "It's more of a challenge than I anticipated."
Just 45 days into his tenure, the recently-relocated from Minneapolis Chief of the Manatee School System is making the tough calls, including a review of all contracted employees for potential cuts, cutting all non-contracted hourly positions, and eliminating all but emergency-related overtime in order to dig out of a deep fiscal pit.
"We were basically operating at some point $7 million below our budget line," he said. "Without these position control and employee staffing procedure and payroll encumbrance, we just got further and further behind."
So, in a dramatic, somewhat Draconian move, all spending that is not a "statutory requirement for safety and health" has been put off until the system's fiscal year ends July 1. Any spending deemed unnecessary will come out of staff salaries.
"How worrisome of a situation is this?" I asked.
"I don't think it's a critical meltdown, per se, but we have challenges," he replied.
Our follow-up question to the Superintendent was one that any parent would want to know. "How's this going to affect the kids?"
Clearly prepared for that query, the Superintendent stiffened and quickly replied, "That's not going to have any significant impact at this point, on the time that we have left in the year." He continued. "More importantly, how are we going to learn from this and how do we utilize that for next year's budget?"
The hope is that limping through the last few weeks of class should set the system in better shape come the 2013-14 school year... When more stringent and sustainable safeguards for spending are in place.