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Schools’ budget committee discusses cuts

BRADENTON — Consolidating an elementary school and a middle school. Closing Duette Elementary. Scaling back migrant services.

Those are suggestions from a Manatee County schools budget subcommittee, made up of district staff and residents, that could save the district almost $14 million.

In a meeting Wednesday at Manatee High, a budget committee set up by Superintendent Tim McGonegal bounced around several ideas that could help save the district operating costs in a tight budget year. If Tallahassee receives some federal stimulus dollars, district officials say they may be slashing $25 million from the district’s operating funds for the next three years.

Anticipating cuts from state lawmakers for next school year, the school board and McGonegal assembled a committee to review and come up with suggestions other than a list of recommended cuts McGonegal presented the public earlier this year.

One of the subcommittees came up with seven recommendations, but not all are up to the school board.

If state lawmakers expand the current class size laws to add one more student to classrooms, that would save the district $8 million. Current class size laws require no more than 18 students in kindergarten through third grade, 22 in fourth through eighth, and 25 in high school.

But that is a decision that has to be made by state legislators, said Bob Gause, a school board member on the committee.

However, there is a bill introduced in Tallahassee this session would allow schools to postpone the full implementation of the class size law next school year. State lawmakers are still considering it.

Other suggestions include having the district stop paying the health insurance premiums for its employees’ family members, converting 12-month positions to 11-month positions and renegotiating the salary schedule of retirees who would like to return to work under the state’s Deferred Retirement Option Program.

McGonegal said he would be drafting his own budget-cut recommendations by May 11 and will be sharing that with the committee.