As the Manatee County school district moves into a new year, the preliminary budget holds several striking improvements that continue the recovery from financial mismanagement under the previous administration.
For the first time since the 2009-2010 school year, the district will meet the state-mandated 3 percent fund balance, with a projected reserve of $12.5 million in the 2014-2015 budget.
Had the state Department of Education not assessed $5.9 million in restoration costs this year for fiscal failures dating back to 2005, the district would be ending this budget cycle with about a $10 million surplus, but now that reserve figures to be between $3 million and $4 million.
That's quite an achievement considering the district began the year with an $8.6 million deficit caused by previous overspending.
The 2014-2015 draft budget of $372 million remains tentative until the state confirms the district's allocation. The district anticipates $19 million more than last year, a bonanza for the recovery.
Still, the district cut spending in the administrative side of the equation while leaving education spending intact -- certainly good news for the continued improvements in student achievement, school grades and district's state ranking.
The 320-page tentative line-item budget is on the district's website for public review. School by school, department by department, school board costs, all those details and more are there.
Printing, postage, insurance, utilities and salaries are among the line items. At Anna Maria Elementary, for example, the year's total came to $1.87 million and change.
Upcoming public hearings will allow residents to comment and question the district. The first one will be held Thursday. Now's the time for interested stakeholders to review the budget, especially parents concerned about the schools their children attend.
In a Tuesday statement announcing the remarkable budget developments, the district attributed the turnaround to "a lengthy list of cost efficiencies and reductions, such as the closure of Central High School, as well as sales of surplus school district properties."
Most recently, the district declined to renew the contract with Manatee Y Technological High School, a YMCA operation that cost the district a little more than $1 million annually during its two-year existence. The district projects an $800,000 savings while still serving the 200 at-risk students -- a prudent decision given the still challenging budget situation.
To their credit, several YMCA officials took the decision in stride at Tuesday's board meeting -- focusing on working with the district to help the youngsters in their comments.
The tentative budget for the board totals $959,000, though to be fair that spending includes a cost shift from the administrative side of the budget. For the first time, the board budget includes legal fees and internal audit services. Still, Superintendent Rick Mills suggests the board reduce spending by 2 percent, the same reduction placed on other departments, or even a higher cut. That's certainly advisable.
This preliminary budget does not list individual board member salaries -- only because the state Legislature controls the amount according to a formula set in Florida statutes. That figure is not expected to arrive until late August or early September.
School boards have no authority to increase their salaries above the amount calculated by law. It is misguided to claim board members are hiking their own pay.
However, individual board members can voluntarily reduce their salary, a point of discussion at last Thursday's board meeting where some members embraced that option. In that case, the amount they elect to reject returns to the district's general fund, a small bonus for a cost-conscious administration.
School board chair Julie Aranibar and Superintendent Mills were but two district and board voices pledging accountability and transparency to the public, and this budget posting delivers on that. Again, we encourage the public to get engaged in this process.