Manatee district repays part of money taken from schools last year

eearl@bradenton.comAugust 21, 2013 

MANATEE -- The Manatee County School District has released a schedule to repay money that was taken from individual schools' internal accounts, including a payment already sent to schools last week.

The district budgeted to repay 33 percent of the funds in the 2013-14 tentative budget. Its goal is to repay 100 percent of the funds by July 31, 2015, according to a press release from the district.

Deputy superintendent of operations Don Hall said the first 33 percent refund was transferred electronically into the schools' budgets.

"The funds were released Aug. 16 for principals and administrators to access before beginning of school," Hall said.

Another 33 percent is

scheduled to be repaid July 31, 2014, and the remainder by July 31, 2015.

Several schools in the district had nearly 50 percent of their internal funds taken by the district in April to help pay for the district's budget deficit.

That included "excess funds" from after-school programs that provide supervision for students outside the normal school day, revenue from vending machines on the schools' campuses and yearbook sales.

Out of an available $2,743,661.30 in internal account money from Manatee County elementary schools, the district took $816,646.

The district received a total of $232,838 from middle school internal accounts, and $410,502.70 from high school internal accounts.

Now that Superintendent Rick Mills has started his financial recovery plan, with a promise to meet the state-required reserve of $10.3 million by next July, he said the district can begin repaying the "donations."

"The schools donated different amounts when the school district said they needed help," Hall said. "We allowed the schools to choose how much they wanted to contribute."

Hall said that each school had to make a contribution to help with the school district's deficit last fiscal year, but the amount was up to the school's discretion, under the advice of Diane Goodson, the school accounting specialist in the district's finance department.

Hall used Abel Elementary as an example. The school was one to "offer up," as the district explains, almost half of its internal account funds.

James Horner, the principal of Abel Elementary, said the money the district received from the internal accounts were not all donations.

"Some money came directly from the profits from property vending machines and yearbook profits," Horner said. "That money we would normally get went to the district."

Goodson looked over the school's internal accounts to see what would be available to the district, Horner said.

"We didn't have the money earmarked, and it was available for the district to use," the principal said. "We were willing to help any way we could, but it is not like I had a smile on my face."

Not all school internal funds were available to the district, including money that the schools received through donations, grants or fundraising for a specific purpose, such as grants Lockheed Martin gave Abel Elementary for science field trips.

The district transferred $17,596 to Abel Elementary on Friday, and the school will transfer that money into the appropriate internal accounts.

Hall said that by repaying the money, the district is keeping a promise officials made back in May.

"Right now the goal is to pay the remaining balance over the next two years," Hall said. "But if we can do it sooner and finances allow, we will."

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

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