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Manatee County may hire 104 new teachers

BRADENTON — Despite upcoming school budget cuts in the multi-millions during the next few years, Manatee County School District leaders expect to hire at least 104 teachers during the 2010-11 school year to comply with the class-size amendment.

“Our estimate is it will cost about $6.5 million to bring them on board,” said Jim Drake, the district’s assistant superintendent of finance.

Legislators have allocated $48.2 million to Manatee district schools for teacher pay during the next school year — just over $1.5 million more than the 2009-10 allotment of $46.7 million.

So because it will likely cost $6.5 million extra to hire those new teachers, the district must find $5 million more, Drake told school board members during a budget workshop meeting Monday night.

“The legislature has given the illusion they’re funding the class-size amendment but they haven’t,” he said. “They’ve underfunded class size by about a half a billion dollars and that’s a big number.”

Budget committees, Drake said, will determine where additional cuts will take place. The committees will make recommendations to Superintendent Tim McGonegal on May 20.

Board members said they will work to avoid cutting elective classes, including art and music.

“I don’t want to see specials cut,” board member Bob Gause said as other board members shook their heads in agreement.

District leaders used a state Department of Education estimate to determine they expect to hire 104 more teachers.

An exact figure won’t be known until district leaders sit down with principals and review their enrollment and how their classes are distributed.

“So far we’ve sat down with principals at about a third of the district’s schools,” Drake said. “The fallacy of class size is we have a very even distribution of kids and it just doesn’t happen that way.”

Voters approved the class-size amendment in 2002.

Since 2003, the state has spent nearly $16 billion to implement it, most of that going toward hiring 30,000 new teachers.

The constitution limits class sizes to 18 students in grades pre-kindergarten through third, 22 students in fourth through eighth and 25 students in high school. But last month, lawmakers agreed to allow voters to decide whether to scale back the state’s class-size amendment to smaller numbers. They vote in November.

Districts must comply with the class-size amendment law by October.

Otherwise, they face the monetary penalties.

Noncompliance penalties for each student would be $3,141 for kindergarten through third grade; $2,720 for grades four through eight and $2,722 for grades nine through 12.

The school district has already slashed $44 million from its annual operating budgets during the past two school years. Cuts stem from sharp declines in state funding caused by reduced state sales tax collections and decreasing property values.

After lawmakers last week passed a balanced state budget, school finance leaders said they expect $6 million to $10 million in cuts to its the district’s 2010-11 operating budget.

School leaders next year anticipate a $325 million operating budget which includes an increase in funding of $1.22 per student. It also calls for an enrollment growth of 370 students for Manatee’s schools, worth an additional $3.3 million to the district through the Florida Education Finance Program.

All but $725,000 of the additional funding is expected to be spent to accommodate new students.

Other cost factors that lead to the district’s budget-cut projections include a 1 percent increase in retirement funding, worth an additional $2.5 million in spending; an expected $3.3 million increase in health insurance costs; and the additional costs to implement the class-size amendment at the classroom level.