MANATEE -- The Manatee County School District is changing the way it manages paying for substitute teachers.
The budget for substitute teachers will now be a line item in each school's hands for use at the principal's discretion.
"This is the first year the budget is in the hands of the schools," deputy superintendent of instructional services Diana Greene said. "There had previously been enormous spending on subs based on trends."
Deputy superintendent of operations Don Hall said the district gave each school money for substitute teachers based on the student count.
"Before, the school requested subs and the district paid for it," Hall said. "Previously, each school had no idea how much they were spending."
Hall said money for substitutes had been budgeted at the district level in the past, not at the school level. The district had not been paying close attention to how much money was being spent on substitutes at each school.
"We are giving schools more control," Hall said. "Some schools feel like their sub money has been cut, and if they look at how much they spent in past, that may be right."
Superintendent Rick Mills said the budget for substitutes is now a line item budget for schools.
"In the past, we wrote out checks from the general fund," Mills said. "It's the same allocation as before, but now we are giving it to a school to manage however they want. They have to rely on their own internal budget if they go over."
Patricia Stream, principal of Samoset Elementary, said she does not see the change as a budget cut.
The district spent $2.085 million on substitute teachers last year, compared to this year's budget of $2.47 million.
Per contract with the Manatee Education Association, the district will end up funding 10 days of substitutes for every teacher in each school this school year.
Schools have already received $1.17 million of the substitute teacher money. The district will give the schools the remaining $1.3 million in January.
With the district's new substitute budget, schools that go over their set amount from the district will have to pull from internal accounts to pay for additional substitutes. Schools' internal accounts include revenue from after-school programs, yearbook sales, athletic events, and vending machines.
Shirin Gibson, principal of Tillman Elementary, said that deputy superintendent of operations Don Hall promised to provide some leeway for schools.
"Mr. Hall is very kind to us," Gibson said. "He said that if there is a need, the district will work with schools when there are emergencies like maternity leaves, car accidents or things like that. They said to let them know."
Gibson agrees with the district's decision to make substitute teachers a budget item in the hands of schools.
"We have a budget, and we know what we are working with and we know how much money we have," Gibson said. "I like knowing what the budget is. I like parameters. I don't like the unknown."
The Florida Department of Education said that each district has independence in the way it manages the budgets for substitute teachers.
"The department does not have district budget data on substitute teachers," said Tiffany Cowie, a spokeswoman from the Florida Department of Education. "We do not know how other districts administer the budget for substitute teachers. It is within the school board's purview or authority to require individual schools to manage their budgets."
Gibson said the budget for substitute teachers has not changed Tillman's policy for hiring substitutes.
"It has remained the same," Gibson said. "When we don't have a teacher, we call in a sub."
Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081