Manatee school board delays decision on budget cuts

ataylor@bradenton.comJune 28, 2011 

BRADENTON - It took more than six hours Monday night for school board members to tell Superintendent Tim McGonegal to go back to the drawing board on his recommendation of budget cuts for the 2011-2012 school year.

Board members could not agree on whether to have furlough days or a 1 percent scale back of salaries, which was recommended by board Chairman Robert Gause.

The board also couldn’t agree on whether to cut $11 million or as much as $17 million. However, most said they would want a dollar figure between the two figures, such as $16 million.

McGonegal had recommended cuts of a little more than $11.16 million. His was the fourth plan board members had seen that illustrates a hacking away at the district’s $644 million annual budget. However, the group must agree on cuts and a final budget by July 27.

It was crunch time for getting the Manatee County school budget cuts approved Monday and the process put School Superintendent Tim McGonegal on the hot seat.

Three days away from the start of the new fiscal year, school board members were still debating McGonegal’s $11.16 million budget cuts. The cuts focus on eliminating 33 jobs, holding 12 jobs vacant and forcing some employees to take as much as seven furlough days. Plus at least 50 jobs will be outsourced.

It is the fourth plan board members have seen that illustrates a hacking away at the district’s $644 million annual budget. Some residents said the new plan showed little difference from earlier proposals where he recommended cutting as little as $11 million and as much as $17 million.

McGonegal fulfilled some requests of board members. He increased dollars to be cut from the district office from $1.5 million to $2.16 million. School cuts were decreased from $2 million to $700,000. Plus no longer will physical education, art and music teachers’ jobs see the chopping block.

“We know that every dollar we cut from the district office, that’s one less dollar from schools,” McGonegal said.

The board’s stamp of approval on McGonegal’s recommendations didn’t come without heavy criticism for the superintendent. At least three board members said they weren’t getting all the information they requested before the vote. Board member Karen Carpenter said she requested a detailed listing of how the organization uses consultants.

“This has been a bone of contention between you and me,” Carpenter said. “I’m at the point now where (I wonder whether) you don’t know.”

McGonegal told her the district’s Chief Financial Officer Jim Drake was preparing that documentation for her. Board Vice Chair Harry Kinnan said he asked for each page of his presentation to be numbered. And board member Julie Aranibar asked for line-by-line items showing what will be cut.

“We’re all supposed to be informed,” Aranibar said.

Board member Barbara Harvey explained what she wanted to take place in McGonegal’s budget proposal.

“I want the job done,” she said to McGonegal. “It’s your responsibility with how the job gets done.”

Each board member fired off their concerns involving the budget. However, McGonegal continued to present his recommendations from a multi-page presentation.

He held on to a furlough system that would require higher paid district employees to take as many as seven furlough days including a spring break shut down where offices will be closed. Teachers and instructional staffers will take two furlough days. School principals and assistant principals will take four furlough days.

Although board members continued to pepper McGonegal with questions, they weren’t the only ones offering opinions. About 40 people signed up to speak during public comments. Many spoke about the budget.

“I want to remind you to focus on your priorities and I know you have,” local accountant Byron Shinn said. “Protect the classrooms.”

Attorney David Miner warned board members that it would be easy to say that only a “small local minority” disagrees with the budget plans.

“But that would be wrong,” he added. “I do believe they expressed the concerns that are widespread in our community.”

Rodney Jones, school advisory council chairman at G.D. Rogers Elementary, said, “I want to speak in favor of the budget we currently have. We do what’s in the best interest of our children.”

Jones also asked that board members “take a knife” to the budget. But then offered words of caution.

“I would just hate to see us move quickly,” he said.

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