Schools budget committee tasked with trimming $15M

BRADENTON -- Wednesday marked one of the last “fact-gathering” meetings of the Manatee County School District’s budget committee.

That’s the committee charged with making budget recommendations to Superintendent Tim McGonegal by the end of March.

“We’re trying to make sure when we make the recommendations we have all the facts in hand,” said board chairwoman Julie Aranibar. “This is the sorting out, and the next stage is the putting together of the document.”

For the past few weeks, budget committee members have been visiting different school sites. Assistant Superintendent Jim Drake has reviewed the district’s financial history.

A few members, however, have been frustrated at the pace of the meetings. A tide seemed to turn Wednesday though as McGonegal directed the members more by issuing a challenge and a goal, and by asking questions.

The challenge is to cut $15 million from the 2011-12 operating budget. He told committee members to ask questions and make suggestions to assist him in developing a list of budget cuts totaling $15 million.

“This is a very difficult process,” McGonegal said. “It’s not easy.”

“This is going to impact the whole town of Bradenton,” committee member Linda Schaich told the committee. “This is really serious.”

McGonegal told committee members that he would like to hear their opinions on two questions.

He said the school board and superintendent have said they want to keep elective programs such as art, music or physical education -- do you support this position? Also, he wanted to know how budget cuts should be implemented -- with across-the-board pay cuts. Should the district differentiate between employees? Or should each employee face a reduced level of pay cut?

“We’re looking at the best way to get the best bang for the buck,” committee member Sandy Marshall said.

Others wanted to go forward with a more structured plan in hand.

“I would love to hear more solutions,” committee member Jennifer Vigne said. “We’ve got to focus on the outcomes. We get stuck in this paralysis of analysis.”

Haile Middle School Principal Janet Kerley agreed.

“We’re halfway through the meeting time period and we keep discussing. We’ve got to have something concrete to make a recommendation,” Kerley said.

Aranibar said she has received recommendations from people who would prefer not to speak up in meetings. She added they will be reviewing those recommendations and others when they complete a final document for the superintendent.

The committee’s next meeting is March 30.