BRADENTON -- Cameras and microphones have never been set up for a budget workshop in the school district until Monday.
The equipment was in place for the first of eight workshops where officials will plan the 2012-13 budget. In the past, budget workshops were a scheduled item listed on the district’s website complete with location, time and date. Now school officials hope televising meetings will bring full transparency.
“What this is doing is bringing the process into the sunshine,” said board Chairman Bob Gause, referring to Florida’s Sunshine Law. “Before the budget committee was not in the sunshine.”
This year’s budget totals $591.2 million. Board members have cut $60 million from the school district’s coffers in the last four years. And more can be expected, Gause said.
“The fact of the matter is we anticipate significant cuts ahead of us,” he said.
School Superintendent Tim McGonegal said zero-based budgeting is planned for the district’s administration offices and budgets for schools would depend on enrollment. Zero-based budgeting requires that each budget expenditure be justified.
“Enrollment drives 70 percent of the entire budgeting process (for schools),” McGonegal said.
Schools Associate Superintendent Jim Drake explained how district officials would detail their budget for board members. Each department will list its staff positions, cost of benefits, staffing changes for the current and previous years. Then each department will itemize its professional and technical expenses.
“This is probably the earliest we’ve started the budget,” Drake said. “Budgeting has become a year-round phenomena.”
To provide more open communication for the budgeting process, district officials plan to use Twitter, Facebook and the school district website. Workshops will be televised on METV.
Their plans surprised the Manatee County residents attending the workshop.
Ernest “Sandy” Marshall, who formerly served on the district’s budget committee, spoke during the public comments of the workshop.
“I’m impressed. I like what I see so far,” he said. “It’s a little early. I don’t think you can get enough input.”
Linda Schaich, who also was involved in the previous budget process, said, “I’m positively impressed. I think they are making an effort. I think they’re listening.”
For the remainder of the budget process, resident Peggy Martin hopes the lines of communication will remain open.
“I’m expecting some transparency,” she said. “I’m expecting that more money goes to the classrooms and to the teachers. I’m expecting -- if they’re streamlining -- that they streamline the administrative jobs.”