Manatee school board approves 2011-12 budget cuts

ataylor@bradenton.comJuly 12, 2011 

BRADENTON -- Three votes Monday by Manatee County school board members ended months of discussions, arguments and angst over the 2011-12 budget cuts.

Board members approved cutting $14 million from the budget by a 3-2 vote. It was a decision made after the board delayed the vote from two previous meetings. Plus, it was the fifth proposal of budget cuts that board members have reviewed.

Monday’s decision-making continued to be an uphill battle. During the special meeting, board members agreed with School Superintendent Tim McGonegal’s district reorganization which eliminates or holds vacant some 28 jobs cutting about $1.87 million. Then, board members voted on the overall cuts of $14 million. The final vote involved cutting district employees’ salaries.

Board members approved each measure by a 3-2 vote. Board members Karen Carpenter and Julie Aranibar voted against each measure. Each said they were concerned about cutting teachers’ salaries without a full vetting of the budget including consultants’ fees.

“This whole process is really unfortunate,” Carpenter said. “We’re all adults and I know we care for teachers and students. But this has been the most fumbling-bumbling system I think I’ve seen.”

Board Chairman Robert Gause agreed that this year has been different.

“It’s been a year of change,” Gause said. “It’s been a tough year.”

The four residents who signed up for public comments agreed with Carpenter and Gause. That number of residents, however, pales in comparison to the scores who spoke in June.

Richard Green, who served on the district’s budget committee, spoke on behalf of his group -- The Committee for Improving the Education of Children in Manatee County.

“This budget proposal before you represents fantasy financials,” Green said. “There is no plan here.”

Green told board members that there was “only a hope and a dream” that state dollars for education will be available next year. Then, Green added, board members will find themselves next year right where they are now -- creating a patchwork budget.

McGonegal came up with two plans after the last school board meeting on June 27. He changed proposed budget cuts from $11.68 million to $14.04 million then $14 million. The last change was made Monday prior to the meeting.

In addition to eliminating or holding at least 28 jobs vacant, McGonegal also recommended eliminating school resource officers from elementary schools; outsourcing some custodians; cutting $55,000 from school libraries and slashing elementary, middle and high schools’ budgets by $700,000. McGonegal also recommended pay cuts for district employees, principals, assistant principals, and teachers.

For weeks, McGonegal would not add salary cuts to his proposed financial cuts. He believed those cuts would impact employee morale in light of higher insurance costs and a new Florida law. The new law requires all state employees to contribute 3 percent to their retirement savings.

After learning the consensus of board members, McGonegal included a 5 percent salary cut for higher paid district employees and about a 3 percent pay cut for teachers. District employees at the mid-pay range including principals and assistant principals would get a 3 percent salary cut. Lower-paid employees, such as aides, teacher assistants, bus drivers and cafeteria workers, will be required to take three furlough days. McGonegal also requested a spring break shut down for a savings of about $245,000.

Board member Barbara Harvey said she holds McGonegal responsible for making sure that the district offers the best services to educate the children of Manatee County.

“I’m not superintendent. I don’t want to be superintendent. But I’m holding you responsible. I’m holding you responsible for educating my babies,” Harvey said explaining she considers all the children her babies. “This has nothing to do with Democrat or Republican ... but our children. It’s time for us to be passionate about the children.”

Board members have scheduled a board meeting for Aug. 1 to take the next step regarding the $600 million budget. They are expected to hold a final budget hearing on Sept. 8.

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