Manatee County School Board plans to add staff, salary increases

BRADENTON -- With a limited amount of money to spend, the Manatee County School Board began to identify budget priorities or "non-negotiables" for the 2015-16 fiscal year on Tuesday.

Priorities include: securing the district network; implementing human resources, payroll and finance software; and paying for the district's long-range planning contract.

The board also came to consensus on funding a full-time substitute at each district school, adding more staff to the operations side and continuing to put aside money for salary increases for staff members.

"We'd like for you to try to find a way to do the rest of it, but we're giving you some flexibility," said Chairman Bob Gause.

"You don't realize how much that helps us," said Don Hall, deputy superintendent of operations.

Hall and his team will work to implement the suggestions fully, letting other priorities -- including security at elementary schools -- become secondary priorities. In April, the Manatee County School District will have better revenue estimates from the state and will continue to work on the budget.

The board also approved

a staffing plan for the 2015-16 academic year, after the information was presented to the board during an afternoon workshop.

The staffing plan is based on numbers and the estimated size for each school next year, said Diana Greene, deputy superintendent of instruction.

"The size of your school dictates how much staff you receive," Greene said. "It's student driven."

The staffing plan, if implemented fully, would cost an additional $21 million next year. Although the board approved the staffing plan, it may not be fulfilled based on budget constraints. Greene is once again asking for certain positions -- guidance clerks, library assistants, lab managers, reading paraprofessionals and permanent substitutes at each school -- that weren't funded last year.

"This is really nothing new. These positions were on the staffing plan last year but did not make it through the budget," she said.

The board also postponed approving the proposed academic calendar for 2015-16, which included an early release Good Friday, a change for the district to avoid having the last day of school for students on a Monday.

The district solicited feedback on the proposed calendar changes, which also moves spring break week to avoid interfering with state testing. The district received about 60 comments on the proposed calendar, with 32 people objecting to the Good Friday change. Ultimately, that wasn't enough to change the decision, district officials said.

The issue remains unresolved.

Ray Niecestro, executive director of the Hernando DeSoto Historical Society, asked the board to reconsider the half day on Good Friday, which coincides with the historical society's annual children's parade and party in the park.

"The parade is a fun-filled interactive day," Niecestro said. "The party in the park is supported by many schools, local businesses and the Early Learning Coalition."

Board members said they did not find a half day on Good Friday acceptable and pushed district officials to find the half day elsewhere in the calendar.

"I think there's general consensus the board doesn't want to have a half day of school on Good Friday," Gause said.

The issue is expected to come back up at the next board meeting.

In other business, the board approved:

A $75,000 settlement with former employee Adinah Torres, who sued the district after the Roderick Frazier scandal, claiming the district retaliated against her for reporting his inappropriate behavior.

Allowing the district to order state-adopted instructional materials to comply with the Florida State Standards -- a modification of the Common Core, in April out of next year's budget. The decision will allow the district to have the materials ready for the 2015-16 year. The expense is $3.5 million out of a $9 million allocation for instructional materials.

Renewing charter school contracts for Manatee School For the Arts, Oasis Middle School, State College of Florida Collegiate School and Team Success A School of Excellence.

Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.