$3.4 million deficit found in Manatee schools budget

BRADENTON - A $3.4 million deficit has been discovered in the fund balance in the 2012-13 school budget’s general fund, school district officials said Friday morning. An amended school budget is expected to be released by the school district later Friday.

The deficit indicates a loss of more than $8 million since June 2012, when there was about $5.3 million in the district’s reserve.

Manatee County Superintendent Tim McGonegal made it clear Friday that his decision to retire was made well before this discovery.

“I made the decision to retire well before this,” McGonegal said. “I wasn’t going to announce my retirement until I had solutions to this problem.”

The deficit was caused by decisions made in the spring of 2011, when the district allotted 58 additional teachers to elementary schools but never budgeted for their salaries, totaling $3.2 million. The additions were made to try to combat classroom size laws, but McGonegal couldn’t offer a clear explanation as to why they were not originally included in the budget.

“There was a disconnect,” he said. “I can’t explain why.”

In total, teachers’ salaries and benefits were $6.7 million over budget in 2011-12. Also not budgeted was $700,000 for textbook expenses as well as a $480,000 cost for teachers in the E Tech Virtual School.

Salary adjustments made after union negotiations also contributed to the $8 million loss, Chief Financial Officer Michael Boyer said.

The number of transactions made after the fiscal year, unreliable methods to calculate salaries and benefits and the non-retroactivity of the recent salary decrease were cited as reasons that the district did not notice the deficit until recently.

“I don’t want to throw anyone under the bus,” McGonegal said. “This result is unacceptable. We need to build that fund balance back up.”

A corrective action plan has been created that would bring the fund balance up to $5.7 million by June 2013. The plan relies heavily on keeping both current and additional district positions vacant, limiting staff travel and filling non-instructional school positions with substitutes. The state requires districts to have at least 3 percent of their budgets in reserve and if not, the state Department of Education must be notified.

The decision to eliminate 30 positions, held vacant while staff adjustments were made during this year’s five-day enrollment count, also will help, saving the district $900,000, McGonegal said.

The district ruled out salary reductions, layoffs and student-programming cuts as options to solve the issue.

The district’s corrective action plan needs to be approved by the Florida Department of Education, but as of Friday morning, McGonegal had not heard back from Deputy Commissioner Linda Champion.

The new total budget for the 2012-13 school year will be $555,684,223, up $1.2 million from the $554,404,285 figure listed in the tentative budget for the district approved in July, Boyer said.