Hot topic at Manatee schools town hall: budget

PALMETTO -- Teacher merit pay, Gov. Rick Scott’s budget recommendations and Manatee County’s potential cuts.

Those were the hot topics Thursday night as about 80 residents came to Palmetto High School for the second town hall meeting sponsored by the School District of Manatee County.

Supervisor of Elections Bob Sweat, county government public affairs liaison Amy Merrill, legislative consultant Juhan Mixon of Mixon & Associates and Superintendent Tim McGonegal served as panelists. Student Taylor Uselton was moderator.

McGonegal said the district had already planned to eliminate about $15 million from the operational budget before Scott’s recommendations.

“We’ve got to keep students our focus,” he said. “That means keeping elective programs and small class sizes.”

McGonegal said the district, however, will have to look at hacking more than $20 million away from the operational budget. To that, Mixon said, “These are going to be challenging times.”

Sweat talked with attendees about making informed decisions before voting. “Being informed -- that’s the key to almost everything we do,” Sweat said.

Merrill said, “Now that you have all this information, the question is: what do you do with it?”

Merrill told the group the best ways to get in touch with lawmakers. She also gave some pointers: be specific, use e-mail, be respectful and don’t make promises or threats.