Education

Budget priorities for Manatee County School Board include increasing savings

Manatee County School Board members Dave Miner and Robert Gause raise their hands to ask questions as the board works through the 2016-17 budget during a workshop Monday at the School Support Center in Bradenton.
Manatee County School Board members Dave Miner and Robert Gause raise their hands to ask questions as the board works through the 2016-17 budget during a workshop Monday at the School Support Center in Bradenton. gjefferies@bradenton.com

An increase in the school district’s “rainy day” fund was among the priorities for the upcoming fiscal year set by the Manatee County School Board during a workshop Monday.

“It’s a good signal to the world, to our bond folks that we are increasing our stability as we go along,” school board member Dave Miner said in support of the plan.

During an overview, Rebecca Roberts, the district’s chief financial officer, estimated that once all was said and done the school board would have between $1 million and $2 million in unassigned fund balance money to play with. By state statute, the district must maintain a three percent unassigned fund balance, a type of rainy day fund.

The district anticipates to end the current fiscal year, having taken in $403.4 million in revenue and having spent $383.9 million, leaving approximately $19.5 million in the district’s total fund balance, according to numbers provided to the board.

The total fund balance includes assigned fund balance areas, which the district cannot touch because they are tied to certain projects, and the unassigned fund balance, essentially a large savings account the district can dip into for unexpected expenses or other district projects and priorities. Roberts didn’t have a clear picture of what the final assigned fund balance number would be when the fiscal year closes out.

The State of Florida mandates that districts maintain an unassigned fund balance of at least three percent of anticipated revenue. That’s about $11.5 million for Manatee County. When the mandated unassigned fund balance and the assigned fund balance figures are subtracted from the total fund balance, Roberts estimated the school board would have no more than $2 million to either bolster existing projects or spend on new items.

Board member Bob Gause said the school board has historically tried to shoot for having a higher unassigned fund balance, but hasn’t been able to get there.

“As a board, historically, we said we’d like to shoot for the five,” Gause said. “We can’t get there overnight.”

Increasing the unassigned fund balance will help the district in the event of another economic downtown, and also makes the district more attractive to lenders, Roberts said.

With board chairwoman Karen Carpenter absent, the remaining four board members agreed they’d like to use some of the available money to boost the unassigned fund balance.

Board members Charlie Kennedy and John Colon also voiced support for using a portion of the money to centralize custodial management, explore external busing options for students and to try to fund school resource officers at the elementary level.

Using what the board said on Monday, Superintendent Diana Greene and staff will continue to work on the budget. But Greene cautioned that some of the board wishes, like the elementary SROs, are not entirely in the school district’s purview.

“That priority hinges on what’s happening in the county,” Greene said.

The most recent county budget proposal does not include funding for SROs at the elementary level, but does include the county contributing more money to cover the cost of the current SROs working in county middle schools.

Meghin Delaney: 941-745-7081, @MeghinDelaney

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