Manatee school board begins budget process

ataylor@bradenton.comOctober 31, 2011 

BRADENTON -- Less than two months after school board members finalized the budget for the current school year, plans are under way to begin the budgeting process for 2012-13.

Board members will hold their first workshop today at 4 p.m. in the district’s administrative building on Manatee Avenue. It’s too early to determine the level of budget cuts that will take place, school officials said. Instead, Board Chairman Bob Gause and district officials want the focus to be on the school system’s main priorities.

“It always boils back down to why does the school district exist.” Gause said. “We can’t ever forget our central core mission is to educate students.”

That means high quality art, music or extracurricular activities can’t face the chopping block, School Superintendent Tim McGonegal said. Other options would be vetted to determine ways to make the district leaner. Questions have to be asked like: Are there other areas for outsourcing? Gause asked.

Over the last three years, Manatee County School District has had $46 million cut from its operational budget. Gov. Rick Scott’s budget and the revenue estimating conference to follow will give school officials a better idea of how much money needs to be cut from school coffers for the coming school year. Early estimates for budget reductions are all over the place, Gause said. But he has heard as much as 5 percent or $15 million.

Some budget changes board members approved in September will have lasting effects, Gause added. The fixes to the health insurance fund will continue to decrease as the fund balance improves. McGonegal projects the fund to be in the black during the summer of 2012. The district’s reorganization also will offer a continued savings.

However, McGonegal believes other operational efficiencies need to be reviewed. He said the process will go back to “zero-based budgeting” meaning each expense must be verified.

“We want the board to give us some direction -- give us some goals,” Schools Chief Financial Officer Jim Drake said about the budgeting.

Drake said this budgeting process will be much more open to the public including the use of social media. Eight workshops are scheduled along with three public hearings.

“Everyone will have their chance to give input,” Drake said.

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