Community, teachers lament budget cuts in Manatee schools

ataylor@bradenton.comJuly 14, 2011 

BRADENTON -- Manatee County parent Christine Sket’s response to the recently approved school budget cuts went beyond surprise.

“I almost fell out of my chair,” she said, referring to her reaction after seeing that teacher salaries are slated to be cut by 2.75 percent.

Sket is the county leader of Fund Education Now -- an Orlando-based advocacy group concerned about education cuts. She supports Superintendent Tim McGonegal and she understands that the operational budget had to be slashed. But cutting teacher salaries?

“I am glad to see minimum cuts to the classroom, but teachers are the biggest part of the classroom and they faced very large cuts. The question that I have is where will the money come from next year when more unfunded mandates flood our school district and further cuts are demanded?” she asked.

Sket isn’t the only person surprised by the budget cuts. More than 50 county residents have spoken up during the public comment portion of school board meetings since early June. And teachers, normally quiet about unpopular district changes, are speaking out.

McGonegal’s plan for financial cuts calls for eliminating at least 28 jobs and holding five others vacant.

Teachers, he said, will receive a 2.75 percent salary cut. Higher paid district officials will receive a 5 percent salary cut. And mid-level paid officials, principals and assistant principals will get a 3 percent pay cut.

The 2.75 percent cut in six-year science teacher Ashley Choate’s salary is one she cannot afford in light of the increase in health insurance and the mandated 3 percent retirement contribution, she said.

“That’s a $400 to $500 difference for me,” said Choate, a Nolan Middle School teacher. “I have a family of four, and I will make a whole lot less than when I started.”

Ten-year veteran Thomas Collins, who teaches computers and business, said he is tired of hearing that teachers will make up the difference in balancing the budget.

“It just feels like they’re taking a lot out of the classroom,” he said. “I think they’re cutting on the backs of teachers.”

Three furlough days will be required from aides, teachers assistants, clerks, secretaries and employees who are members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union. AFSCME members include bus drivers, bus aides and cafeteria employees.

“Every year, we’re making less,” said Bruce Mohr, of AFSCME. “There are some people working here that are making less than when they started.”

Mohr, who is an industrial equipment mechanic for the district, said morale has really been hit.

The morale of district employees was the main reason McGonegal didn’t want to institute salary cuts. However, he took a consensus of the school board members prior to this week’s vote on the budget cuts and offered a tiered salary cut plan, which was approved.

The overall salary cuts coupled with furlough days will save the district $5.04 million. Teacher salary cuts alone mean an operational budget cut of $3.73 million.

Board members have scheduled a board meeting for Aug. 1 and will hold a final budget hearing Sept. 8.

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