$624.8 million school budget tentatively OK’d

nalund@bradenton.comAugust 3, 2010 

BRADENTON — The Manatee County school board Monday tentatively approved a $624.8 million budget for the upcoming school year.

In a separate vote, board members also approved the proposed 2010-2011 millage rate of 7.591 — .05 higher than last year’s rate of 7.541 mills.

That means if the board approves the final budget and millage Sept. 9, some Manatee property owners will see as slight increase in taxes.

The new assessment means a taxpayer with a home valued at $167,000 with a homestead exemption of $25,000 and no change in assessment would pay $1,267.70 in school property taxes — an increase of about $8.35.

The tentative budget includes nearly $9 million in cuts for the upcoming year, which the board approved last week. On the list: hiring some high school teachers for the first semester only, saving $440,000; seeking advertising for the interior of school buses estimated to yield $100,000 in revenue; and eliminating district office positions, cutting about $1 million in expenses.

For the upcoming school year, the district faces an additional expense of $4 million to hire about 85 more teachers to comply with the class-size amendment, which limits the number of students in classes. The district serves about 43,000 students.

Jim Drake, the district’s assistant superintendent of finance, told board members that 27 percent of school taxes go toward the cost of teachers to meet class size requirements.

Most of the financial burden for the class size amendment is on the county, said board Chairwoman Jane Pfeilsticker.

That’s because the state, she said, is only giving Manatee $1.5 million of the $4 million it needs for to fund it.

The school district already has cut $44 million from its annual operating budget during the past two school years. Cuts stem from sharp declines in state funding caused by reduced state sales tax collections and decreasing property values.

Also on Monday night the board in a 4-1 vote formally approved Superintendent Tim McGonegal’s proposal to raise the millage for operating expenses by .25 mills. Board member Bob Gause dissented.

“This path the board is going down by not reducing operating costs next year is going to force the board to make contingently difficult decisions next year,” Gause told fellow board members before they voted.

To offset the new tax, the board is reducing the millage for capital projects by the same amount — from 1.50 mills to 1.25 mills.

They are able to lower the capital outlay by using savings achieved on construction projects and by planning to sell two unused properties, McGonegal said.

The new tax, which lawmakers gave Florida school districts the opportunity to levy last July, is to avoid classroom cuts this coming school year and will bring in an extra $6.4 million in revenue. It would help close a nearly $9 million shortfall in the 2010-2011 school year’s budget.

Had the board not approved the new tax, the district would have had to eliminate elective classes, including gym, art and music. It would also have had to nix media specialists at elementary schools, slash six school resources officers or make employees take seven furlough days.

The board does not need Manatee voter approval to levy the new tax for the 2010-11 school year. But they would need their vote in November to levy it again for the next two school years. If voters agree to the tax, the board must renew it every year through a supermajority vote.

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