Manatee schools respond to tough spending issues well

Manatee High, five charter schools solve district challenges

May 22, 2014 

The Manatee County school district's budget crunch is reaching schools in new ways, necessary administrative decisions to save money.

For the first time in history, Manatee High School will be charging seniors $20 to attend the graduation ceremony and charging family and friends to sit in some prime seats.

The other county high schools already charge a senior fee of varying amounts -- a surprise for generations long past graduation ceremonies never exposed to fees.

Parents didn't blink at the $200 cost for an entire bench at Hawkins Stadium, enough seating for 15 people. Those reservations sold out quickly -- in about four hours, Herald education reporter Meghin Delaney revealed Friday. The per-person cost [SoftReturn]only stands at a bit more than $13.

Families apparently did not mind securing prime seats in the 10 rows near the stadium's end zone that were available for purchase.[SoftReturn]The cash-strapped school district pulled $3,400 in funding for Manatee High's graduation this year, but the school came up with a novel idea to pay some costs for its unique ceremony.

The other five county high schools hold ceremonies at the Bradenton Area Convention Center over three days next week -- with the school district covering the $7,387 rental fee. Divided by five, the per-school [SoftReturn]cost is relatively inexpensive.

Manatee High's graduation bill will run from $10,000 to $12,000 -- for programs, renting chairs and a stage, and more.

Manatee's stadium ceremony is a must -- since graduations usually attract 5,000 to 6,000 spectators to watch some 500 seniors get diplomas.

The convention center only holds 3,000 to 3,500 guests for graduations, and there is no charge for seating.

The school district must look everywhere for budget savings. Three weeks ago, the Florida Department of Education ordered the district to restore $7 million in misspent funding -- all of that coming out of this year's budget.

This week the district quickly concluded negotiations with five charter schools on payments for student transportation, which had been costing the district about $550,000 annually. The agreements will go before the school board on May 27.

With board approval, Manatee School for the Arts, State College of Florida Collegiate School, Rowlett Elementary, Just for Girls Academy and Palmetto Charter will pay a greater share of busing costs.

The district also recently implemented a targeted spending freeze.

Administrators anticipated an $8.2 million positive fund balance this year, but the $7 million restoration order eliminated that possibility. The district is scrambling to rebuild reserves as quickly as possible, even in small amounts.

Kudos to the five charter schools and the Manatee High community for rallying through tough times, even as difficult as the new expenses are.

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