Manatee School Board digs into layers of complex budget plan

eearl@bradenton.comJanuary 15, 2014 

The Manatee County School Board: Linda Carpenter, left, Bob Gause, Julie Aranibar, Dave "Watchdog" Miner and Barbara Harvey. Manatee County School District photo.

MANATEE -- After surfacing Monday from a meeting with legislators in Tallahassee, Manatee County School District members said tough budget decision remain to be made.

One decision is how to fund school advisory councils -- teams of teachers, parents, administrators, support staff and other community members -- who help prepare school improvement plans. School advisory councils have received no funding the past two years, according to Michael Boyer, district chief financial officer.

Boyer and Don Hall, deputy superintendent of operations, say it is not a state requirement to set aside dollars for school advisory councils. However, the district has faced some backlash for not funding SACs.

"It is a local school district's decision," Hall said. "There is no requirement to give SACs rollover money, therefore we did not take SAC funding."

Hall said district options include funding school advisory councils, giving SACs rollover funds or funding at 50 percent. Hall said the district also has a whole host of other programs to consider in its strategic plan.

The strategic planning team survey conducted in November showed core instruction and student safety were the highest priorities among community members.

"(Advanced placement, international baccalaureate) and supporting programs were important, but they did not fall into the group that ranked into what community members saw as most important for Manatee County," said Robert Johnson, district director of planning and performance management.

The surveys were meant to develop funding priorities, but school board vice chair

man Dave "Watchdog" Miner said that intention was not made clear.

"Were they ever told that this would be the foundation for the next five years of planning and budgeting of billions of dollars? Was anybody told that?" Miner said.

School board member Bob Gause also had concerns about the survey results.

"We do not want to lose sight of the importance of AP programs," Gause said. "We don't want to look at dollars more than the product we are turning out with our students, and I don't think this district will."

School board member Karen Carpenter said she wants community reactions monitored closely.

Hall said he thought community intent was made clear by the survey.

"The intent was to gauge the general direction of where we are going and making sure all parts of the community were represented," Hall said.

As the new strategic plan unrolls, the district is also considering abandoning EdVantage, which the school board adopted as its strategic plan in 2010.

"It will still be a strategic plan, so I do not think it matters what we call it," Gause said. "I hope to see it morph and change over time, and I don't see how changing its name will make a difference."

The school board is hoping the sale of properties will bring in enough revenue to fund more programs for its strategic plan.

Since declaring the Braden River High School outparcel on State Road 70 as surplus, the school district has received three offers for the property.

Del Lago Ventures offered $1.3 million for 2.4 acres of the 10-acre property with plans of putting in a Race Trac gas station and convenience store. Del Lago Ventures said the sale could close in between 330 and 420 days.

Blackrock Development Holdings made two offers: $2.75 million for 10 acres at the intersection of SR 70 and Caruso Road plus 1.5 acres on the South East corner of 53rd Avenue West and 34th Street West, or $1.85 million for just the 10 acres. Blackrock said it could close on the property within 90 days.

Blackrock had previously made an offer for the school district's former Owens Annex building, better known as the Checker's property. The district accepted its $1.65 million offer, but Blackrock terminated the contract last May after deciding the space was not suitable for a PDQ restaurant whose menu mainly features chicken.

The Checker's property sale closed Tuesday for $1.4 million with Route 32 Investments LLC.

The school district is still considering the 1.64 acre Bayshore High School outparcel for surplus. At a Feb. 11 workshop, the school board plans to discuss the surplus Bayshore High property and the possible contracts with Blackrock.

The next school board workshop is scheduled for 3 p.m. Jan. 28.

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

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