MANATEE-- The Manatee County School Board made no hesitation in approving the final 2013-14 budget in a 4-0 vote Tuesday, with school board member Bob Gause absent.
The board voted to approve the millage rate and the final $568 million budget in less than an hour.
Karen Carpenter, school board chairwoman, said the board was well-prepared to vote Tuesday, the day before the state deadline for final budget approval.
"We moved the meeting back to give sufficient time to review the documents that were put on the website," Carpenter said.
This budget is $12.7 million more than the 2012-13 budget. With student enrollment growth, the district also received a 26 percent increase in state money based on the number of students in the district.
Superintendent Rick Mills said this budget will need to make up for last fiscal year's $7.5 million deficit.
"The budget approved by the School Board this evening is a realistic and executable budget that will help the Manatee County School District move forward successfully," Mills said. "It's now time to turn our full attention to what matters most, and that is supporting our schools and teachers in raising the achievement levels of our more than 46,000 students."
Several factors have put the school district on the path for meeting its obligations this year. For example, the health insurance fund had a surplus of $5.3 million at the end of last year and is expected to close up at $9.1 million by the end of the 2013-14 fiscal year, exceeding the 60-day reserve requirement.
The budget includes raises for union employees, including teachers, paraprofessionals, bus drivers and custodians.
Teacher pay raises are funded in part from $6.3 million in additional state funding proposed by Gov. Rick Scott. The school board is expected to consider a 2 percent increase for non-union district employees, excluding senior staff, at the next school board meeting Monday. The district expects this pay increase to cost $860,433.
The budget also includes repayment of 33 percent of internal account money "borrowed" from schools in the district in June to boost the general fund. The district budgeted $270,000, and the money was repaid before the final budget was approved.
Cost savings highlighted in the final budget include:
$4.2 million by eliminating 80 district staff positions;
$1.6 million by closing Central High School;
$667,000 in maintenance and operation savings; and
$500,000 by keeping district buildings at 77 degrees.
The budget also calls for saving $11 million by eliminating 182 teaching positions. However, the district rehired 69 teachers and is hiring 85 more because of enrollment growth.
Stephen Valley, Manatee County School District spokesman, sai d net district savings for the teaching positions is $6.5 million.
The millage rates were also approved by a 4-0 vote. The board approved a total rate of 7.57 mills, a decrease of .22 percent from last year.
School board member Dave "Watchdog" Miner said the board adopted the millage rate based on board expectations of "what would be necessary to fund the district."
"We tried to make information about those needs available in the budget," Miner said. "That has been before the public for some time and amended as needed over the last few weeks as school started."
Michael Boyer, district chief financial officer, said the final budget is now set, but will be brought back to the board for monthly review.
"We are hiring a budget director, so we will have a whole new person to help us drive a culture of budget ownership," Boyer said. "For a district this size, I am not sure why we didn't have that role."
The school board is expected to vote Monday whether to hire Heather Jenkins, a non-school district employee in West Virginia, as new budget director.
Calls to Jenkins were not returned Tuesday.
School board member Barbara Harvey said she is pleased with the final budget.
"We have been studying it for months, and were able to respond to questions through e-mail," Harvey said.
Harvey said the question most often asked had to do with preserving various school programs. The budget shows no major cuts to programs.
"The goal was to not cut anything that would impact children directly," Harvey said. "So we are not cutting football."
Harvey said each board member also had the chance to discuss the budget with various school district directors, including curriculum, food services and special programs.
However, not all in attendance felt like their budget questions had been answered.
Manatee County parent Linda Neely said the budget appeared difficult for the district to develop.
"I'm a little apprehensive," Neely said. "The statutes say taxing authorities will hold public hearings, with the purpose to receive opinions and answer questions."
Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.