Manatee school board to consider millage rate, revenues at special meeting

eearl@bradenton.comJuly 25, 2013 

The Manatee County School Board: Linda Carpenter, left, Bob Gause, Julie Aranibar, Dave "Watchdog" Miner and Barbara Harvey. Manatee County School District photo.

MANATEE -- The Manatee County School Board will consider a proposed millage rate during a special meeting Thursday designed to bring in more money for the school district.

The board will consider the millage rate proposed by district officials without having seen a copy of the budget, which is still in draft, according to school officials.

According to the school district's "notice of proposed tax increase," which the state requires, the district is asking for a 2.16 percent increase to this year's tax levy.

The levy will bring in an increase in revenue, even though the proposed millage rate includes a slight decrease.

Michael Boyer, chief financial officer of Manatee County schools, said the millage would decrease .017 from 7.589 to 7.572.

Boyer said the revenues increase is a result of rising county property values. The school district is expected to bring in $196 million in revenue.

County property values rose nearly 4 percent, according to Mark Johns, director of appraisal services for the Manatee County Property Appraiser's Office.

The school district is able to bring in more revenues by decreasing the millage rate only slightly, rather than adopting the rollback rate, which would bring in the same revenues as last year.

The district released its proposed millage rate without releasing a district school budget detailing expenditures.

Deputy superintendent of operations Don Hall said there is not an itemized line-by-line budget the school district can release as a public document.

"That is normal procedure," Hall said. "On the 29th, we will have a budget workshop where we will share more details."

Monday's scheduled meeting is a public hearing on the proposed millage rate. School board members, who expect to receive a copy of the full budget Friday, will get their first opportunity to discuss budget details at Monday's meeting

Hall said the proposed budget will be available online Monday.

"We are following the state statutes," Hall said.

Last year the school board met over several months to discuss various department budgets, so board members could suggest places to save and understand more than $500 million in planned spending. The board was also able to gather public input on programs jeopardized by budget cuts.

This year's budget process has been much different, said school board member Robert Gause.

Gause said he has only seen a budget summary, which offers revenue projections and expenditures in various services. He said his biggest budget concern involves impacts on student programs. The proposed budget is expected to break down expenditures by various programs and have a comparison of district expenditures over the last two years.

"I suspect it will be a lot like the recovery plan that the Florida Association of District School Superintendents presented us with," Gause said. "I suspect Mills will identify where we tried to save money versus where we spent money."

Gause said Thursday will be the first time the school board has been able to discuss budget details.

"I am not terribly comfortable," Gause said. "Right now I'm just trying to get answers to questions."

Gause said the school board has not had budget workshops and has had no input on item priorities.

Gause said not all expenditures were included in past budgets.

"My understanding is that those items have been identified and are included in the budget," he said.

However, Gause said his opinion is only based on the one-page summary.

"We are at the starting point at a process that usually starts much earlier, and that is the reality of this year," Gause said.

School board member Dave "Watchdog" Miner said he only received a chopped-off version of the one-page budget summary.

"It's not good," Miner said. "The more information for the board and the public, the better."

Miner said he does not know what the school board will discuss Thursday. Going into a meeting to discuss a proposed millage rate with so little information prompts Miner to worry history is repeating itself.

"We need to make sure that there is a built-up budget, not just one that has a lot of money just set aside to grab from as the year goes by," Miner said. "We need to make sure salaries are encumbered and that other essentials are there."

Hall said he does not know whether the school board will vote on the millage Thursday or during the public hearing Monday.

Superintendent Rick Mills met with Boyer Wednesday afternoon to go over the proposed budget, but did not release any specifics.

The proposed millage rate includes 1.5 mills for capital projects. The capital outlay fund designed for construction and long-term projects includes motor vehicle purchases, maintenance and upgrades to roofs and air conditioning and heating units, loan payments and insurance premiums.

Boyer said the district is not planning to add to its white fleet of vehicles, but has set aside money in case a maintenance vehicle needs to be replaced.

"It is unlikely, but we cannot legally replace a vehicle unless we include that," Boyer said. "We are only going to spend what we have to all next year. Everything is still going to be questioned and scrutinized."

As for the district's fleet of road vehicle, "we will be looking at getting rid of more of those vehicles," Boyer said. "The superintendent has talked about a round two of selling them."

The district sold about 50 vehicles from the district's fleet of 222 at an auction, bringing in $121,000 in June.

Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.

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