More unbudgeted items found in Manatee County school budget

kbergen@bradenton.comDecember 4, 2012 

MANATEE -- Since interim Manatee County Schools Superintendent David Gayler took office in the fallout over a budget deficit caused by millions in overspending, roughly $7 million of additional unbudgeted items have come across his desk.

They are "significant" and in several categories, he told board members Tuesday.

And they include items such as the international baccalaureate program at three district schools, overtime pay and band uniforms. Other programs, such as the hospital homebound program, have been underbudgeted.

By meeting with department heads to find extra savings, looking to control overtime and noncontract hours, and taking advantage of excess funds in food service, the district can cut the deficit by $1.7 million. They also won't implement a proposed $2.5 million in raises for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Supervisory and Managerial Personnel and the Manatee Education Association.

But the district still needs to come up with $2.8 million if they want to fund the extent of unbudgeted items that have been found. Officials said they'd have to turn to departments heads to find ways to save before next year.Gayler, Chief Financial Officer Michael Boyer and other staff members started looking into additional items that were missing from the 2012-13 budget after former superintendent Tim McGonegal's resignation this September over the announcement of a $3.4 million budget deficit caused by unbudgeted items, such as teachers' salaries.

Boyer said he's discovered that items commonly have not been budgeted in past years and funded later with reserve money.

Like the IB program, which Boyer discovered wasn't budgeted for last year, either.

"We just funded it as we needed it," said Boyer, who was not part of last year's budget process because he joined the district this March after former assistant superintendent of district services, Jim Drake, retired.

The process worked when the district had money in its reserves, Boyer said. This year -- combined with an influx of unbudgeted teacher salaries -- it was a disaster."There was a fundamental practice to fund these items later," said Boyer, "It was a bad practice."

Though McGonegal and board members would have had to sign off on these reserve expenses, new board chairperson Karen Carpenter said that she did not realize that certain items continued to be unbudgeted.

"I wasn't (aware)," said Carpenter, who described an environment where it was difficult to learn where department expenses came from. "It was lack of openness about what's going on. It's such a big budget. If you want to hide something, you can."

Gayler described other practices this year that failed to come together as the district struggled to grapple with the implications of this year's budget crisis.

This year, he said, no person was assigned to coordinate full-time equivalent (FTE) counts used to generate state funding. The job had been scattered among schools and departments. Between August and October this year, 17,000 errors were found in entries that equated to what Gayler estimates could have equaled a loss of $5 million in revenue.

This fall, he instructed Student Demographics, Projections, and Assignment supervisor Danny Lundeen to coordinate the counts. After securing a weeklong extension from the state, they were able to fix a majority of the errors. And software will be tweaked so that bad data cannot be sent as it has in the past.

"We averted several million dollars worth of FTE loss," Gayler said.

Understanding the extent of district's financial needs is still a guessing game, Boyer said. Like terminal pay for unused annual leave, which officials think was underbudgeted by $1 million. In light of an early retirement program and the impossibility of predicting exactly who will leave the district, officials can't say for sure whether they've budgeted too much or too little.

Gayler also warned that other unbudgeted items could continue to surface.

He hopes to eliminate the problem for next year by building a line-item budget from scratch by January, transferring more responsibility to department heads to be accountable for monitoring and communicating the cost of their programs and giving them the tools to do it.

Boyer said Tuesday that for decades, computer software integrated the accounting functions of various departments and monitored the hires, transfers and departures of teachers in the district, linking them to the correct funds in the budget. But in 2009, the system was abruptly cut off, and the software that replaced it didn't connect that information.

No one Tuesday -- not administrators or board members -- seemed to know who made that decision or why no effort was made to replace the functions lost. But Boyer said its impact was directly responsible to the district's financial struggles.

"I firmly believe that this was the contributing cause to the deficit," Boyer said. "I think we have been severely hemorrhaging since 2009. But we had a fund balance to cover it."

Boyer has plans to bring new reporting software that will allow users to analyze and align different budget criteria. He hopes that the district can fully implement it by March.

Carpenter said she looked forward for district information to become more credible.

"I'm looking for complete and accurate information," Carpenter said. "I should not have to take a column of numbers and add them to see if they are correct. I have no patience for that."

Dave "Watchdog" Miner spoke to the relief that the district appears to have some direction.

"I think we feel a little better now that we understand the problem." Miner said. "We have a working plan for getting better."

Carpenter was a little more cautious.

"It was a critical first step," Carpenter said. "But we have a long way to go."

Katy Bergen, Herald education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.

Bradenton Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service