Manatee County School District uncovers $3.9 million budget shortfall

eearl@bradenton.comOctober 29, 2013 

MANATEE -- The Manatee County School District has a $3.9 million budget shortfall after drastic efforts to cut the budget in the first quarter of the fiscal year.

District Chief Financial Officer Michael Boyer blamed the shortage Monday on "new costs," including existing teachers whose salaries had not been included in the budget and the need to hire even more teachers and staff after the summer layoffs when the district predicted it would have 1,000 fewer students.

Those costs include $800,000 for relocated Central High School teachers, $489,000 for 27 additional Exceptional Student Education paraprofessionals, $317,000 for seven gifted teachers and $780,000 in teacher lead, a cost Superintendent Rick Mills did not define.

School board member Dave "Watchdog" Miner said he was dumbfounded at the news.

"We were not prepared, and the information was not provided ahead of time," Miner said after the meeting.

Miner said the district is spending less money this year than at this time last year, but there is still concern.

"We did not fully anticipate

the expense associated with personnel," Miner said.

Boyer and Don Hall, deputy superintendent of operations, said they have been working with the new finance department staff -- budget director Heather Jenkins and finance director Tommy Crosby -- on the budget since the school board approved it in September.

"Week to week, we are quite literally finding costs passed on to us that we hadn't anticipated," Hall said Monday.

The district now has overcrowding in its pre-kindergarten Exceptional Student Education classes, with more students on waiting lists.

"We were required to move more students out of self-contained ESE into inclusive classrooms," said Diana Greene, deputy superintendent of instruction. "But we still need support from paraprofessionals. We are functioning to make sure we are not going to be sued, and we are not going to be out of compliance."

Greene also noted the growth of Horizons Academy, a school for students with academic and behavioral challenges. Greene said gifted classrooms are also under-supported.

The district also has a shortage of $800,000 for the relocation of Central High teachers after its closure, a move made by the school district to save $1.6 million.

Mills said the decision was to send Central High staff with their students moved from the alternative school to the mainstream public schools. However, the $800,000 to do so was not included in the budget.

"That was an oversight that we own," Mills said.

Miner said he expected more savings after closing Central High.

"The original thinking was that staff would go with students and replace some of the staff at their new schools," Miner said. "That didn't happen."

Boyer said teachers were moved from Central High to other public schools while teachers already in place in those schools stayed.

"We made an error in the transition of Central teachers to each high school," Boyer said.

Boyer said there was also a shortage of $780,000 in the budget for teacher lead program funding. Greene said the money is required by law to help teachers buy school supplies.

"These are dollars sent to the schools," Greene said. "We had to go back in the year-end review, which can take months. It is required by law to roll these dollars forward."

While Boyer and Hall presented corrective measures for the shortage, school board members were concerned about the actual effectiveness of these plans.

The idea raising the most eyebrows was central office substitutes.

Boyer and Hall said the district could save $100,000 by using central office district staff members as teaching substitutes.

"Many of us are certified teachers," Hall said.

Miner said the math doesn't add up, because the district has already given each school its allocation for substitute teachers for the first half of the year.

Boyer and Hall are also suggesting pulling $700,000 from the general fund and implementing another hiring freeze in November.

"We don't see another way without taking strong, corrective action," Hall said.

Hall said the district is also anticipating $500,000 in increased Exceptional Student Education Volunteer Pre-Kindergarten revenue from the state.

Boyer said Monday the projected fund balance is $9.35 million, short of the $10.3 million Mills included in his financial recovery plan sent to the state.

Hall said the school board will need to consider leveraging property, adding that the sale of properties to refund the general fund is a "continuing theme."

The school board plans to reconsider selling an out-parcel at Caruso Road and State Road 70 for surplus at its Nov. 11 school board meeting.

The school board voted against declaring that property, a portion of 18 acres next to Braden River High School, as surplus at the June 24 meeting.

The board also voted against designating as surplus 3.8 acres on the outskirts of Bayshore High School and a 5.2 acre portion at King Middle School, including some tennis courts.

Hall said moving forward with the decision to sell property can be tough.

"Do we listen to the community who says 'I like the property and I like having green space,' or do you move forward with selling it?" Hall said.

The school board Monday unanimously rejected an offer of $247,500 from Swift Enterprises LLC for the 5,280-square-foot Parent Information Center office building on .78 acres, which was appraised by Michael Saunders & Co. in April for $840,000.

The board turned down the offer in a 4-0 vote. School board member Bob Gause recused himself from the vote because of a potential conflict with his developer consulting firm Allison-Gause Inc.

The school board's next meeting is at 5:45 p.m. Nov. 11.

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

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