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Manatee school district faces grim budget year

BRADENTON -- School district officials believe they face a grim future for the 2012-2013 budget year after hearing from their Tallahassee consultant Monday.

Jim Hamilton of Tallahassee’s Mixon and Associates said the state’s financial shortfall appears to be nearly $2 billion. However, the Legislature is still working on its version of the budget, he said. Plus, school districts’ statewide await word from Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s office regarding his proposed budget.

“Many are going to have to face the reality -- look at some of your support staff,” Hamilton said referring to areas that may need to be cut from the budget. Then he offered a frank view of the state’s viewpoint regarding teachers. “There’s not a lot of concern about whether teachers get paid. This is not a business that’s losing customers.”

School Superintendent Tim McGonegal and Chief Financial Officer Jim Drake say no specific dollar amounts have been discussed as potential cuts to the district’s operational budget. However, a few facts are known: Florida’s enrollment will increase by at least 30,566 students and $194 million will be needed to meet that demand. Manatee County school officials expect 1,000 more students.

Manatee County’s property values are likely to drop by 1 percent, Drake said. And it’s not likely that the school district will receive capital dollars.

“We haven’t gotten construction funding in four years,” Drake said.

McGonegal said he believes the 2012-2013 budget will be an improvement over the current year where $14 million was taken out of the operational budget. District employees were asked to take furlough days and teachers’ salaries were cut by nearly 3 percent.

“I think all of us have been cut to the bone,” board member Barbara Harvey said. “We don’t have another source of funding. Where do we go from here?”

To improve the district’s financial coffers, school officials asked the Manatee Education Foundation to develop a report on generating revenue for schools.

Foundation officials said they are seeking a partnership with a company called Education Funding Partners, which specializes in getting corporate sponsorships for public education. Board members Harvey and Bob Gause were pleased that steps were being taken to find revenue for the district.

“We have to look at some ways to supplement whatever funds we’re getting,” Harvey said. “With the trend we’re on now, there will be no music, art or PE in our schools. Where else can we cut?”

Harvey said Seminole County School District announced that electives would have to be cut for the coming budget year.

“I want to thank the foundation for chasing after this,” Gause said.

However, not everyone was pleased with the reports given Monday evening. Manatee County resident Linda Schaich voiced her displeasure about the state of the district’s finances during public comments.

“This book is a disgraceful representation of the finances of the school district,” Schaich said holding up the district’s budget in its full binder. “Numbers don’t add up. One department is totally missing. There are three or four pages that don’t have this year’s information.”

Drake said that characterizing the budget as “misleading ... is personally offensive to him.”

“A budget is a living document,” he added. “It’s not going to look the same on June 30 as it did on Sept. 8.”

The next budget workshop is scheduled for Monday. Each department is expected to offer a presentation.

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