Where will school cuts come from?

Parents, residents, district staff look for areas to trim Manatee schools budget

bburger@bradenton.comMarch 5, 2010 

MANATEE — Renting the school district’s administrative office space, cutting administrators, possibly closing a school.

Those were among the ideas mentioned at a town hall meeting Thursday night that a handful of parents, a few residents and school district staff members attended in hopes of finding ways to trim anywhere from $6 million to $15 million out of the Manatee County School District’s budget for the upcoming school year.

“I want your feedback to let us know what’s important to you,” said Superintendent Tim McGonegal. “We can’t do it ourselves. We definitely need help.”

McGonegal gave a short presentation on the district’s $708 million budget for this school year and how the district has already trimmed $44 million over the past two years.

The need for an additional budget cuts is the result of reduced state sales tax collections and decreasing property tax values, as well as potential cost increases in Florida Retirement premiums, health insurance premiums, step increases for employees and unemployment costs, he said.

Tom Sweeney, who is a retired resident, asked about the possibility of closing an elementary school and moving district offices to the vacated school building. He suggested renting the school district headquarters for a company to use in the next couple of years until the economy rebounds.

Sweeney also proposed offering buyouts to those close to retirement.

“I would ask that you do that and give them an incentive,” Sweeney said.

“As a taxpayer, I’m very impressed with the teachers in Manatee County. I’m impressed with their ability. ... If you decide to cut, don’t start with teachers. ... Start with this building or whatever else you can find, sir.”

Chelie Plicinski, who has two daughters, ages 11 and 14, enrolled in the district, said there are no easy answers. She worries about the quality of instruction with more cuts looming.

“I think parents have to get involved. They need to start fighting for their children and their rights,” Plicinski said.

The state budget developed during the legislative session, which runs through April, will ultimately determine the size of the cuts in the district.

“I do know they are just going to have to revamp a lot of things in the state and start taking from somewhere else,” Plicinski said.

For more information about the district’s budget and a list of suggested cuts made by community members, visit www.manateeschools.net and click on the budget information link.

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