Manatee school board to vote on final budget, but won't release it before public hearing

eearl@bradenton.comSeptember 8, 2013 

MANATEE -- Manatee County school board members received copies of the "final" annual 2013-14 budget last week, but the public will not know if there have been any changes from the tentative budget posted online.

School district officials said Friday they will not release a copy of the final budget to the public until after the school board votes on it Monday night.

Before the vote, the final public hearing is set for 5:45 p.m. Monday for Manatee residents to comment on the school district's $566.9 million budget before it is submitted to the state on Tuesday.

"We are ready to go for Monday night," Mills said. "The line item budget is published, the school board members have their books, and we are postured to move forward."

Asked to define the "book," Mills said it is "the final annual budget for 2013/14."

The final budget, which was not released to the Herald, is expected to include hiring an additional 85 teachers to help cover the number of students enrolled, which had been underestimated over the summer.

School board members have not been forthcoming about the budget, either.

Barbara Harvey, who sits on the board, said she has brought concerns about the budget to deputy superintendent of operations Don Hall, Chief Financial Officer Michael Boyer and other district staff working on the budget to get clarification. She also said that she has not yet read completely through the budget.

Harvey declined Friday to share her concerns.

"I prefer not to share, as I don't have to share them with you," Harvey said. "I am still studying the budget and haven't finished."

A line-item budget has been available online since just after 5 p.m. Aug. 23, before the public hearing at 1 p.m. Aug 29. But it does not

include a comparison to last year's budget.

Mike Barber, a spokesperson for the Manatee County School District, said the final budget now looks like a cross between the tentative budget, the 418 pages of line-item details, and the 2012-13 final budget, which was created under former superintendent Tim McGonegal. But he also stressed that the new document would not be released until after the board approves it.

The tentative budget posted online includes the repayment of one-third of the money from school internal accounts that the district borrowed in the spring, the employment of 154 teachers and the state-mandated extra hour in the school day for five Manatee County schools. This year's fiscal budget is also supposed to include $6.3 million to repay last year's deficit, as well as $10.3 million, or 3 percent, for the state-mandated reserves by next July, a mark the district has missed for the past three budget years.

Hall said before the public hearing in August that the 33 percent refund for the schools' internal accounts was included in the 2013-14 budget. Although the final budget has not yet been approved, the schools have already been repaid.

Some schools gave up as much as 50 percent of their internal accounts -- which include revenue from after-school programs for parents who work, athletic event ticket sales and money from vending machines -- to help bulk up the district's fund balance.

A major adjustment in the budget covers hiring 85 additional teachers due to an increase of students.

The district's 10-day count, which includes all the students in seats at the end of the second week of school, showed that there were 46,008 students in the district, up from the original projection of 45,343.

The 10-day count revealed an increase of 255 students in middle schools from the district's original projections and an increase of 910 students in high schools. There actually were 184 fewer elementary students.

The decision to employ 85 more teachers to avoid overcrowding and penalties for not meeting the class size amendment followed the re-hiring of 69 teachers who were laid off during staffing cuts in May. A total of 182 teachers and 80 district employees were initially cut.

At the August public hearing, Hall and deputy superintendent of instruction Diana Greene determined that the 85 added teachers will cost $4.3 million.

Greene said the cost will be covered by $2.1 million from the state in increased student funding and $1.2 million in Title I funding from the federal government.

The other $1 million is built into the 2013-14 budget, Greene said.

The tentative budget also includes $1.6 million for the extra hour of reading instruction for the five elementary schools that are on the state's list of the 100 lowest performing elementary schools for reading.

School board member Bob Gause said Friday that he has not looked over the final budget yet, but said he does not believe there will be much of a change, if any, from the tentative and line item budgets.

"I do not have any questions at this point," Gause said.

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

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