Latest News

Manatee County School District budget workshops get positive start

MANATEE -- Cost-savings achieved in 2010-2011 by outsourcing maintenance, and the future exploration of greater bulk purchasing, were just some of the topics that emerged at a Manatee School District budget workshop.

“Staff has felt they were under attack before,” said Julie Aranibar, who called Monday’s workshop a promising start to what is anticipated to be yet another difficult budget year for public schools. “But any time we can meet and go over facts, it’s helpful.”

Harry Kinnan, newly chosen as the board’s chair, called Monday’s workshop “encouraging.”

“This gives people an opportunity to see that we’re doing a lot of things right and have a lot of talented people in our senior staff,” he said. “And this will hopefully generate follow-up questions on more possible savings.”

Board member Barbara Harvey said the workshop, which is the first of three, helped school board members and the public better understand how the district’s departments approach budgeting.

“We also did get more information on how these departments are reducing their budgets to accommodate the current crisis in funding,” she said.

The gathering included an in-depth financial summary by department heads in the district’s business services division, which covers about 20 percent of the district’s estimated $538 million annual budget. A second workshop is scheduled for late January that will cover support services including human resources, risk management and the superintendent’s office. A third, to be held in February, will cover curriculum and instruction. Several smaller workshops will also be held during the budgeting process.

Manatee school officials will propose an actual budget for the coming year in January after the state legislature provides more specifics on funding it plans to provide. Gov. Rick Scott is expected to release his budget Wednesday. School districts throughout the state are anticipating yet another year of dwindling state education funding that will require them to make difficult local decisions.

Monday’s workshop was especially significant because it debuts a new budgeting process for Manatee County, which previously worked through a budget committee comprised of residents and representatives of the board and district administration. Some residents had expressed concern that the new process would limit the public’s opportunity to be involved in budgeting.

But even one of those residents most involved with budget committees from years past had positive reviews of the new process. “What’s impressing me is that some of the recommendations the committees came up with, you’re doing,” said Ernest Marshall, head of the Federation of Manatee County Community Associations.

In particular, Marshall praised a discussion of how the bulk purchasing of tires could save the district additional money. He praised Harvey’s suggestion that the district staff explore other opportunities for “consortium” purchasing.

A $1 million reduction in maintenance and operations costs from 2010 to 2011 was another cost-saving measure shared with the board. Still another is an ongoing focus on direct deposit, which saves the district 15 cents per paycheck. All but five percent of the district’s employees now use direct deposit, board members learned.

Christine Hawes, Herald education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.