Manatee County School Board mulls $367M budget draft

Preliminary $367 million budget draft for 2014-15 to be presented at Tuesday's meeting

mdelaney@bradenton.comJune 22, 2014 

BRADENTON -- As it stands, the Manatee County School District will have an additional $19 million to spend on education next year.

Don Hall, deputy superintendent of operations, will present a $367 million preliminary 2014-15 budget to the Manatee County School Board Tuesday.

"We're thirty days ahead of our normal cycle," Hall said.

When crafting the budget, complying with the state-mandated three percent minimum in the district's reserves -- in Manatee's case, $11.5 million by the end of the 2014-15 fiscal year -- was a priority, Hall said.

"The budget was designed to be sure we have the state required minimum fund balance," Hall said.

The proposed budget will go through a few more stages before it becomes a formal "draft budget" and be fore it's adopted by the board in September. Changes may be made if there are changes in state contributions, Hall said.

Creating a budget for the 2014-15 year has been hampered by state and federal audit findings requiring the district to pay back money misused in the past. The auditors ordered the Manatee County School District to restore about $7 million misspent in past budgets. Prior to the audit findings, the district had predicted it would have an $8.2 million fund balance by June 30, the fiscal year-end. Instead, the fund balance is now predicted to be nearly $2.5 million by the end of the year, significantly below the estimated state-required three percent minimum, which hinges partly on utility savings based on cooler weather this year.

The proposed annual budget includes further staff reductions -- either through layoffs or by attrition -- increases in operational, instructional and superintendent's office salaries and increases in benefits and general fund expenses. The decrease in the school staffing plan and increases in other areas is partially based on moving custodians and technology support staff, so that they are paid from different accounts.

"It's a reallocation," Hall said.

The $19 million year-to-year increase is being created by a number of costs, according to the presentation, including the fund balance, the addition of a charter school and an increase in employee benefit costs.

The district has already taken steps to help balance the budget, including calculating benefits at more accurate rates, removing new operations positions and cutting the supplemental budget, according to the presentation.

Additional measures are being proposed, including more property sales, automated daily shutdown of computers, having central office departments reduce their budgets by two percent and looking at shutting down portions of schools not in use. The proposals are still being studied.

At Tuesday's meeting, the board is also expected to approve a host of contracts, bids and grants, including a $750,000 sale of surplus land in Ellenton and at Braden River High School.

"The only use we have for property is schools," said board chair Julie Aranibar. The district has to look through all its assets for cost-saving measures, Aranibar said.

The board will consider selling land to Blackrock Development Holdings Inc. for $750,000. Blackrock wants to buy 2.75 acres at Braden River High School, an area between the intersection of State Route 70 and 66th Street East, and 1.7 acres at 816 Leffingwell Avenue in Ellenton. If approved, the deal is expected to close before Aug. 29.

The Ellenton property was once home to the Ellenton school, and at one point under then-superintendent Tim McGonegal, the district and the Manatee County Commission discussed having the county turn the property into a public park.

A nearly $3 million sale of other land earlier this year was also completed between the school district and Blackrock Development. That $2.95 million agreement sold off 10 acres at Braden River High School and 1.64 acres at Bayshore High School. That deal has already closed and been factored into the 2014-15 budget as revenue for the district.

Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.

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