Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Meeting Set with Education Inspector

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Meeting Set with Education Inspector

Article excerpt

MANATEE: Department of Education official will talk with Mills today

MANATEE COUNTY

The Inspector General of the state's Department of Education is scheduled to meet with Superintendent Rick Mills today, less than a week after Mills requested the state investigate the financial woes that plagued the district under previous leadership.

Mills officially requested the inquiry -- which would examine instances of "neglect" and "incompetence" that led to $46 million in budget shortfalls in recent years -- in a letter sent to Inspector General Mike Blackburn last week.

At a school board meeting Tuesday, Mills defended his request, rebuking those he says have asserted that his appeal was made to "distract from the dysfunction" of the School Board.

He pointed out that if the district is not able to mitigate an additional $10 million in penalties for spending errors handed down by the Auditor General's Office, district overspending in recent years rises to $56 million.

"There is nothing hilarious or ridiculous about that fact," said Mills, who read from a written statement Tuesday.

If the Inspector General starts a probe of the district's finances, it would be the second time in recent years financial practices have been scrutinized for criminal activity or malfeasance.

In the wake of former superintendent Tim McGonegal's resignation over a growing budget deficit in September 2012, School Board members commissioned the Tampa firm Navigant to conduct a forensic audit.

That audit -- completed in January 2013 -- blamed bad leadership and poor budget processes for the crisis, but found no evidence of fraud. The probe cost the district more than $160,000, and caused some to question the "laser focus" that some school officials had asked for.

"I have some real concerns that the Navigant audit was not broad enough in scope to address the issues of waste, abuse, malfeasance and misfeasance," said Mills, who was hired to right the struggling district in March 2013.

Looking for answers

It's not clear what would happen if previous school leaders became specific subjects of such an investigation. …

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