MANATEE COUNTY -- School board members will get a $1,400 annual raise, a part-time assistant and new personal tablets as part of a $1 million proposed annual budget for the board.
During a workshop Tuesday, the school board will discuss the $1,015,845 budget request, according to information posted on the board website.
"Right now, it's a proposal," said Julie Aranibar, the school board chairman. "Some things might change."
The board budget includes salaries and benefits for board members, costs associated with school board legal fees and paying membership dues. The board is also looking at incorporating more than $5,000 into its budget to purchase five new tablets and associated accessories for the board members. They also are considering adding
a part-time administrative assistant.
The district's overall budget for the 2013-14 year was $568 million, but the district is still struggling to bring its reserves to $10.3 million as required by the state. The district is on track to have an approved budget for 2014-15 by September, but state and federal audit findings requiring the district to pay back money misused in the past has made putting together a balanced budget more difficult, officials have said.
The auditors ordered the Manatee County School District to restore about $7 million in funding that it has misspent in past budgets. Prior to the audit findings, the district had predicted to have an $8.2 million fund balance by June 30, the fiscal year-end. Restoring the money will bring the fund balance to about $1 million before the end of the year, significantly below the estimated state-required $10.3 million.
The board is looking at a salary increase for each board member equaling $1,426. That salary increase would bring most board members up to a salary of $39,107. Aranibar's salary would be $37,681 with the increase; last year, she turned down the pay increase, she said, putting her salary below that of other board members.
Board member Barbara Harvey called the school board member salary "minimal" and said she donates money out of her salary to various foundations and scholarship funds.
"I do that out of each check, and I will continue to do just that," she said.
The budget for the board also includes a line item for $9,000 that will cover a salary overlap for board members after the election in November. Board members are on a two-week pay period, and for a portion of November, the district will pay any outgoing board members as well as any recently sworn-in members.
At least one new board member will be elected in November, as Harvey announced this week that she will not seek re-election. The board could gain up to three new board members, including Harvey's replacement, as two other seats are also up for grabs.
The board is also hoping to hire a part-time administrative assistant at $24,000 a year to help the board's administrative assistant prepare materials for various board workshops and meetings.
In addition to hiring, the board is set to pay for contracts for the school board attorney and the internal auditor.
Shinn and Company, the internal auditor for the school board, is expected to earn $315,000 for the 2014-15 year, but the board will look at what services would be included and may consider dropping some -- even though the auditor is still in the process of working with district officials on action plans in response to the 42 findings from state and local auditors. As the proposal stands, the company would perform a total of 1,800 hours for the 2014-15 year at a cost of $315,000. Aranibar has requested a comparison of what services would be covered at a lower cost so the board can have a discussion, she said.
At an audit committee meeting last week, Byron Shinn said his company was trying to be effective with its time and billing hours while still juggling the different projects the interal auditor is charged with.
"There was a lot of sensitivity from the board to spend this money," Shinn said at the meeting.
Board member Dave "Watchdog" Miner said the services provided by Shinn were essential to help the district recover. Miner hasn't been able to fully review what services the $315,000 would cover, but said the district must keep on top of any fiscal issues.
"I think we're getting pretty good bang for the buck," Miner said of the work Shinn's company has done so far.
Legal fees for the school board attorney, James Dye, are slated to cost $150,000 next year. The board used the costs from previous years to determine the figure, Aranibar said. It's difficult to predict what the legal costs may be in the upcoming year, she said.
"For legal, we have no idea," she said. "All we can do is go by what we have this year."
In previous years, school board legal fees were not included in the board budget, Aranibar said, but were folded into the legal department budget. This is the first year the costs will be separated, she said.
The board is considering spending $5,000 on five new tablets, docks, keyboard and chargers for board members. The tablets will replace outdated technology and allow board members access to their information on the go, Aranibar said.
Harvey said she supports initiatives that would help the district go paperless.
"To do that, we will need to have updated technology," Harvey said. She uses her personal iPad for school board business.
Board member Robert Gause also said he may not need the a new district tablet, as he uses his personal tablet. Gause previously turned in a district-issued iPad, he said, because he had his own.
"I have my own iPad, I can access my district emails from that," Gause said. "I haven't decided if I want them to buy that for us yet."
Gause said he'll be digging deeper in the proposed budget this weekend. Board member Karen Carpenter said Friday she did not have a chance to review the information yet.
The board budget also includes costs for board training, membership association dues, office supplies and advertising school board meetings.
If the board comes to a consensus Tuesday, the budget will be passed along to the district's budget and finance officials, and the money will be set aside.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.