Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

McGonegal Needed More Eyes on Him

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

McGonegal Needed More Eyes on Him

Article excerpt

Though I have known several people with the title of Superintendent of Schools better than I know Tim McGonegal, that was partly because some others seemed to need more watching.

McGonegal faced plenty of problems since being chosen in 2008 to take over for then-Superintendent of Manatee County Schools Roger Dearing.

Money was tight, so McGonegal oversaw cuts in administrative staff, and supported pay cuts for teachers.

But he had been Dearing's assistant superintendent for business services for three years, and before that was the district's assistant director of finance. He was a bean-counter; he came off as a straight shooter who knew what he was doing and what had to be done.

Yes, some School Board members found fault with him, especially lately. It got to the point that it seemed plausible when McGonegal cited job stress as a health issue, and recently announced his plan to retire in early 2013. Before his surprise resignation effective immediately Monday night, I had seen him as the proverbial steady hand at the tiller, a guy who tackled the tough tasks well.

Not all did, of course. For instance, last year, two members of the school system's budget committee, joined by a local accountant, called for McGonegal's replacement. They cited what they saw as major budget problems.

But I figured that in these tight money times, what local government agency doesn't have budget problems?

Now, I'm thinking I should have gotten to know McGonegal's operation better, including the work of Jim Drake, the man McGonegal chose as assistant superintendent of finance. Like many people, I'm flabbergasted at the financial crises McGonegal just revealed.

No wonder he has felt stressed. It's bad enough when critics harass you wrongly. What if it turns out they had good cause?

In a nutshell, the district spent more than $8 million that his financial department forgot to count, a revelation that has thrown the school system into the red, and wipes out required reserves. …

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