Afternoon public hearing set for Manatee school budget

eearl@bradenton.comAugust 29, 2013 

MANATEE -- The Manatee County School District is inching closer to approving a budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year, but school board members say they are still not clear about all documents surrounding it.

School board member Dave "Watchdog" Miner said Wednesday he does not know if more supporting documents will be released before the public hearing on the budget at 1 p.m. Thursday.

"I do not know if there will be new documents, and I am not aware of it," Miner said.

The school board members received the line-item budget around 9 p.m. Aug. 22. It was posted to the district website after 5 p.m. Friday just short of a week before the public hearing.

The line-item budget is broken down by individual school, including personnel and facility maintenance costs.

For example, according to working budget documents, electricity for all school board properties, including each school, support center and the Matzke complex, will cost $11 million.

Budgets for individual schools depend on student enrollment.

There were no budget comparisons from the 2012-13 budget to the 2013-14 budget as has been done in previous years. There were also no work sessions on the budget this year.

Last year the school board met for months to analyze the budget department by department.

While comparisons from the 2013-14 budget to the 2012-13 budget, which is still available online at the school website, did not reflect significant changes for individual schools, school board Chairwoman Karen Carpenter said it is tough to compare this year's line-item budget with last year's.

"This is one of the first times the school district has done a line-item budget," Carpenter said when documents were released.

Carpenter said Wednesday this year's budget is "a good baseline budget."

"It has all the facts and is comprehensive," Carpenter said. "Anything is more visible than last year's, and more accurate."

School district data used to calculate the budget include enrollment, which is designed to ensure classrooms stay within state-mandated student-to-teacher ratios -- 18 students per teacher for kindergarten through third grade; 22 for fourth through eighth grade; and 25 for ninth grade through 12th grade.

The working documents for the 2013-14 budget used projected enrollment numbers from May, suggesting a total of 41,860 students in the school district.

Although these numbers are outdated -- enrollment is now estimated at 45,806 -- Miner referred to the budget as a "living" document with numbers that can be changed.

The budget is tentative. The board will need to vote to approve the final version at a public hearing at 5:45 p.m. Sept. 9.

The public hearing Thursday is not required by the state, but Miner said it will give the public an opportunity to voice suggestions and questions.

"It is important for the public to have the opportunity to know where things are at the moment," Miner said. "I certainly want to hear what the public has to say. There are things we can tweak, and there may be changes as a result of what the public suggests."

Miner said adjustments also may be needed after the 10-day count, the student head-count that takes place after the first 10 days of school.

The district now has 2,370 teachers and 584 paraprofessionals, including aides, teaching assistants and health aides, to serve students in Manatee County schools.

Miner said he does not know what questions and concerns to expect from the public Thursday afternoon or even how many people will be able to attend the mid-afternoon hearing.

"I don't know what people are going to bring up tomorrow. That is why we have the hearing," Miner said.

Byron Shinn, a certified public accountant contracted as the district's internal auditor, said the district is on a path to developing better financial practices.

"The school board is looking to the public for improvements for efficiency," Shinn said.

Shinn said there are still positions to be filled in the finance department, including budget director. Interviews for budget director are underway.

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

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