Manatee schools budget panel considers $3.15M in cuts

ataylor@bradenton.comMarch 16, 2011 

Editor's note: This story was updated March 18, 2011.

BRADENTON -- School budget committee members are considering $3.15 million in cuts that department heads have proposed could reduce the district’s operational budget.

The 21-member committee that has met since mid-January is beginning to feel the gravity of their task -- they are charged with giving Manatee schools Superintendent Tim McGonegal suggestions of what areas can receive budget cuts.

The group has 14 days before their deadline to get a full list completed and they still have between $7 million and $12 million to eliminate from the 2011-12 operational budget.

On Tuesday, members brainstormed ways to cut additional dollars from lean departments.

“Again my question is: Where are we going to get that money from?” committee member Sandy Marshall asked.

“I don’t think there’s one $12 million answer,” McGonegal said.

The group discussed consolidating certain departments. Others questioned the need for the district’s parent information center when considering that each school has a registrar.

Other suggestions:

-- Eliminating out-of-county travel.

-- A district-wide salary reduction

-- Eliminating printing and supplies.

But no suggestion seemed to gain much traction to fill the $12 million gap.

“To me, we’re as skinny as a cat,” committee member Tami Wankoff said. “I think the bottom line is we won’t be flush zero. It’s not possible. It can’t be done.”

Manatee County schools, along with the state’s other 67 districts, have no choice. Committee members told Wankoff that by state law, the budget has to be balanced.

Linda Schaich asked McGonegal, “How do you propose to get the money?”

McGonegal offered to use the already-presented list of $3 million cuts. Then, he suggested each school site might have to cut a certain dollar amount from their individual budgets.

“There isn’t anyone in this room who wants to see anyone lose a job,” Marshall said. “It’s better to have a job and get a temporary cut. That’s where we’re at folks. We don’t have a cushion. It’s looking pretty bleak.”

Marshall offered a recommendation for committee members who will be weighing how to generate or cut dollars for the next few days. He said to ask, “What do we need for that core classroom?”

“The quality of our students is going to depend on who’s teaching them,” he said.

Committee and school board members have stressed how the anxiety of the budget crunch is getting to them.

At Monday night’s board meeting, all board members discussed their concerns.

“We have a lot of apprehension on the part of the district,” school board member Julie Aranibar said. “I hope that we have the courage to look forward.”

School board member Karen Carpenter said, “This is a very serious time. It’s also a very stressful time. We are advocating as much as we possibly can.”

School board member Barbara Harvey said, “We are a team and we need to be working together. If we work together -- as individuals as well as in a unit -- we can win this crisis.”

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