MANATEE -- Parents, community members and district staff gathered Tuesday night at King Middle School and Thursday night at Harlee Middle School to express priorities for the 2014-15 budget year. Almost 300 people have participated in the survey so far either in person or online.
The Manatee County Schools' Citizens' Budget Advisory Committee is conducting a series of meetings across Manatee County, where parents can fill out surveys ranking next year's funding priorities. The survey covers a broad range of academic and non-academic school district funding needs.
Academic items include science, technology, engineering and mathematics; international baccalaureate; college readiness, including advanced placement and dual enrollment; performing arts; dropout prevention; and teacher training.
Non-academic items include extracurricular activities; free student Internet access; school resource officer in every school; anti-gang programs; competitive salaries and benefits; up-to-date libraries; and media centers and parenting classes, which help parents assist children with homework and keep students focused on education.
The survey also includes a comment section where parents can include ideas for improvement.
The Citizens' Budget Advisory Committee is a diverse, volunteer committee whose members include Jackie Dezelski from the Manatee Chamber of Commerce, Susie Copeland, president of the Manatee County NAACP, and former Manatee County teacher Steve Graham.
The committee was formed as part of district reorganization in August and serves to check district financial reports for accuracy and make internal audit recommendations to the board.
About 15 parents came out to Harllee, along with district Chief Financial Officer Michael Boyer and deputy superintendents Don Hall and Diana Greene, budget director Heather Jenkins and communications director Steve Valley.
"We are doing something different for a different outcome," Hall said. "Where do we want to go as a community and in schools?"
Katherine Buckley, an Exceptional Student Education specialist, filled out a survey while watching children and offering homework help.
"This is a great avenue to open up to the community," Buckley said.
Curiosity also attracted Theresa Herbst, a health and security instructor at the Manatee Technical Institute,
"I just wanted to see what the survey was," Herbst said. "Of course I think safety is paramount, but other goals are just as important."
Kelly Madden-Warne, an art teacher at Oneco Elementary, said she came expecting a discussion.
"I didn't come in with expectations about the survey, but I was hoping for a discussion," Madden-Warne said. "I'm an art teacher, so I hope they keep that in the curriculum."
Celia Isunza, a Daughtrey Elementary parent, said she came to advocate for more speech specialists in schools for students who qualify for English for Speakers of Other Languages.
"They need speech," Isunza said, whose son has a disability and needs one-on-one assistance. "Even if it is after school it is preferable to get it soon. My son is in first grade, but his reading is at a kindergarten level."
Another priority for Isunza, a stay-at-home mom, is more crossing guards when the students get out of school.
"They need to think more about kids," Isunza said.
Valley said that about 60 surveys were submitted at the meeting at King Middle with a turnout of more than 70 parents. Valley said more than 200 surveys have been submitted online.
Hall said the budget items required by federal law and state statutes will be handled first, then the district will examine survey results. Comments will be collected in a log so the district can cross-compare.
Future meeting locations, all starting at 6 p.m.:
Tuesday at Buffalo Creek Middle;
Thursday at GD Rogers Garden Elementary;
Nov 19 at Lakewood Ranch High School; and
Nov 21 at Lincoln Middle School.
All meetings include food, childcare and homework help.
The survey is also available online at surveymonkey.com/s/Shaping_the_Future_Together.
Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081